Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dublin Bikes

We have not yet bought a car, so I have been exploring many other modes of transport. You may have read my post about taking a cab using Hailo. Mostly I have been walking everywhere, because everywhere I need to go is pretty close and I love just looking around me as I saunter along. The architecture, people (people dress up much more here, so people watching is very fun), cars, people on bikes, everything is just a little different (or a lot different) than L.A. So I walk and soak it all up. I have used the bus a couple of times, but I can usually walk to where I am going in the same amount of time that I would spend waiting for the bus. Today I walked to DH's office in Smithfield, which is on the other side of the Liffey and about an hour walk from home.


I got a tour of the office and then we went for a quick lunch, before taking a cab over to the South Circular Road to look at a car. After looking at the car, we were each in a rush to get to our next destination. So, I headed straight for the closest Dublin Bikes station.

Let me tell you a bit about Dublin Bikes because they are just so awesome. They have stations all over the city that look like this:


For 20euros a year, you can join and get a DublinBikes Annual card. There are also 3 day tickets available for 5euros. There is a terminal at every bike station and once you have this card, you can just go to the terminal at the station, put your card up to the sensor and pick a bike. All terminals accept an Annual Card and a 3 Day Ticket. A number of terminals have credit card facilities enabling you to purchase a 3 Day Ticket. The terminal looks like this:


Once you have picked your bike number, you walk over to the bike and unhook it from the stand.


Once you adjust the saddle to your desired height and deposit your stuff in the front basket, away you go!


There are many stations located all over the city, and you can download an app to your phone that tells you where they are. It will also tell you how many bikes are currently available at any particular station. The back of the terminal also has a map if you need to find a station near your destination. 



So wherever you are going to, especially if its centrally located, you can find a convenient station where you can just drop your bike off when you are done. You just clip it back into any available stand and it will light up and beep when the bike is locked in. If your ride is under 30 minutes, your ride is free. If you go over 30 minutes, the credit card that you have on file will be billed. You can see the pricing structure here if interested in more info.

Dublin is such a bike friendly city, with many bike lanes and LOTS of people just getting around by bike. No spandex, or even helmets required. I have seen some fabulously dressed people just riding their bikes for transport. Many parents ride with their kids to school. I see one man every morning while I am walking the dog, riding right down the main road with one hand on his handlebars and the other hand pulling his daughter briskly along beside him on her scooter, while a toddler rides behind him in a seat. Our postman delivers the mail by bike! The other night as I was walking back from the local shop, I saw an elderly woman riding a very large tricyle with her groceries in a big basket behind her. My husband rides a bike to work everyday. Dublin Bikes makes Dublin even more bike friendly. You can head out for the day without a bike and just grab one if you need one. Loving it!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ask a simple question, and...

I have often been amused by certain members (yes plural, not anyone in particular) of my family, who when asked a simple question (possibly even one which you would think just warrants a yes/no answer) manage to convolute the simple into a meandering treatise on their day or their musings or whatever. When they are done, you are not even sure the question has been answered or at least you are not smart enough to parse the particulars and squeeze out the pertinant information. For all I know, I may actually unknowingly do this too. Hmmm. Well I am starting to realize that this might actually be a cultural thing and not limited to my relations (who are not necessarily even related to eachother, except indirectly through someone's marriage.)

The revelation started because my son has been asking to play laser tag and would love to have a laser tag birthday party. Seeing as our new dwellings are very small and birthdays are approaching, I decided to see if there were any laser tag places nearby. I found a website that seemed to be for a laser tag venue. When I clicked on the "where to play" button, instead of a simple list of locations, this is what I find:

"There are currently 9 centres of varying Quasar formats across the country. This consists of one original Quasar location, the Leisureplex Quasar Elite locations, and the Q2000 Leisureworld centres.

The first original Quasar centre in Ireland was opened in the Dundrum Bowl in 1989. However, this arena was destroyed in a flood in 1993. By this time, however, more centres had opened up in Leisureplex Coolock, Leisureplex Cork, and Sportsbowl Tallaght (which would later be bought by Leisureplex), and in Bray. The Bray centre closed down in the mid 90s, and while the Leisureplex centres (the 3 above, plus Stillorgan and Blanchardstown) are still open today, they are now using the newer Quasar Elite equipment. The 3 Q2000 centres were opened in the late 90s, with the updated version of the original Quasar game."

(You can go to the actual website to see for yourself: Quasar Ireland)

So, am I as feeble-minded as I sometimes think I am, because I find this to be a riddle? There really is a much simpler answer to the question "Where to Play", right? I may not find most comedies funny, but I find this downright hilarious. This is like asking certain members of my family where to play lasertag and you get a response like... "Funny you should ask, because the other day I was talking to a friend who I knew when I was a little kid and one time I had to take my friend to the beach, and when we were there we met this man who was telling us that he had been to such and such place and while he was there...." and so on and so on and then 20 minutes later, you don't remember what question you asked and so have no idea if somewhere in that ramble it has been answered.

I meet so many people here, much older than myself, who I think are so very sharp and quick and now I wonder if that's because they have spent a lifetime solving mind-bending riddles everytime they ask a question. They may just want to find out where to play laser tag, but they get the added bonus of mensa-level word problems to keep them astute in response. Even the .ie web content editors are on board with supplying the necessary mental exercises. I feel like I have always pretended to be smart, maybe now I actually will be and then I might figure out how to find a laser tag venue that hasn't burned down..




Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Banking blues and how-do-ya-dos

Escrow has finally closed on our house in Los Angeles. We are very happy the whole ordeal is finished and we can move on with our new life here in Ireland.

Banking has been such a nightmare though. We have been trying to make a transfer from our US bank and they use a verification system that sends a code by text to your mobile phone. The caveat is that the mobile phone has to be a US number. We have ported our US numbers, but the process is not immediate, so we can't get the code. Arghh. I have called the phone number that the bank website says I am to use when calling from Ireland and I get a message saying that "this call is not allowed from your area" or something nonsensical like that. Double argh. We have tried using Paypal. Paypal makes an initial deposit to the Irish account of $1.50 with a code in the description, which you have to then input in order for the rest to transfer. Only, the descriptions don't appear in the Irish account for at least a couple of weeks. Triple Arghhh! We are just trying to get enough money over here so that we can buy a car and some furniture and it is proving to be really hard.

So, today I decided to withdraw some money from my US account at an ATM machine and deposit it into my Irish account. Just a small amount as a buffer. I was able to withdraw money from the ATM outside the bank, but I could not see any way to deposit, so I left and went back when the actual bank opened. I went into the bank and asked where to make a deposit and was directed to a set of machines. I went to the first one and put in my card and could not for the life of me see how to make a deposit. There was a line of people waiting behind me, so I stepped away and went back to the person at the window and told them that I just could not figure it out. (I'm sure that to them I am just a total idiot!)

The very kind gentleman said he would walk me through it. (Does it make any sense that I would feel less stupid if I had put on some smart clothes and wasn't in my grubby work-out gear with unwashed hair? Why is that?) So, anyway, he walks me over to the set of machines and one has a sign above it that says "Lodgements" and he says I should use that one. I put in my card and two options appear, "cash lodgements" and "cheque lodgements." Would you know that "lodgements" is the word for "deposits?" He walks me through the rest of the very basic process and I get my money "lodged" in my account and then I am asked if I want an "advice slip." A what? That's a receipt to us. I think I needed advice more. Who knew?

Oh, well, hopefully one day we can get this money thing sorted and we can get some furniture and a car. Though I am LOVING walking, sometimes for some errands, especially when you are just getting set up, a car would make things SO much easier.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Panto at the Gaiety

Today we had matinee tickets for this year's "Panto," Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, at the Gaiety theatre.

The Gaiety Theatre


I remember going to the Panto at the Gaiety as a kid and was very excited to return with my own children. According to the Gaiety's website, they have been hosting the yearly Panto since 1873! This is what the site has to say about the history of Panto:

"The pantomime first arrived in England as entr’actes between opera pieces, eventually evolving into separate shows. In Restoration England, a pantomime was considered a low form of Opera, rather like the Commedia dell ‘Arte but with out Harlequin (much like French Vaudeville). Harlequin is the leading character often seen in panto.

Pantomime can now be seen throughout the world and, most commonly in Ireland, each year in The Gaiety Theatre. Traditionally performed at Christmas and New Year, with audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, Irish pantomime is now a traditionally popular form of theatre incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines and a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions."


You can go to the Gaiety's website to read more...

We had a great time! We were all thoroughly impressed (even DH, who is always quite frugal with compliments.) The production was really first-rate. The sets and costumes were beautiful. The singing and dancing (they sing a familiar set of tunes from the history of pop music generally, with words re-written to suit the story) was very entertaining and of course the kids loved the slapstick and buffoonery. All in all, there was something for everyone to enjoy and we had a lovely afternoon.

You can watch the television ad for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" on youtube. Already looking forward to next year's Panto, Peter Pan.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hailo

Yesterday I walked into town to run a few errands. I also needed to buy a printer. I left the printer purchase til last, because I wasn't sure I would be able to carry it home and thought I might take a cab. We do not yet have a car, because escrow has STILL not closed. Ugh.

Look Barb, sunshine!
Anyway, before I had left the house, I downloaded an app to my phone called Hailo (I also input my credit card info into their system. I totally recommend doing this.) This app is awesome!!!! After buying my printer, I was standing outside the store and I opened the Hailo app. It told me how soon it could get a taxi to my location (2 minutes!) and all I had to do was click "Pick me up here." After clicking the button, I was told the name of my taxi driver and it had a photo of him too. Within two minutes, my taxi driver (named Gary) was there in front of me (his cab also had a Hailo logo on top beside the cab number.) He loaded my printer into the trunk and away we went. While I was en route home, the app asked me what percent tip I might like to leave (0 was an option and there is also a preset, so you don't have to deal with it en route.) He dropped me and my printer to my door and no money exchanged hands, it was all handled through Hailo. So awesome!




Ethnic food aisle

In the ethnic food aisle of my fancy grocer- the American section! So much to be proud of- box cakes, pop tarts and marshmallow fluff.


Friday, January 10, 2014

night school?

Today my son was asked by his teacher what the big difference was between school in Ireland and Los Angeles. DS replied, "in L.A. we go to school in the daytime." (*note: sunrise is around 8:40am here right now, school starts at 8!)

Mansize

I absolutely love it here, but some things still blow my mind.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

...more grocery shopping

Though I just went grocery shopping two days ago, today I decided to check out a food market that is a little closer to my house than the local Superquinn. The store is called Donnybrook Fair. I found it because I was looking for a particular brand of sausages called Jane Russell's. Donnybrook Fair seemed to be my closest stockist. DH had sampled these sausages when he went to the Dublin Craft fair before Christmas and told me about them. This was an exciting discovery because my kids LOVE Irish sausages, but I am a little wary of the ingredients. These sausages seem to be very high quality and use oats instead of breadcrumbs. (I had checked the gluten free sausages at Superquinn and they contained soy flour. Not a substitution I'd be in favor of.) Anyway, enough about sausages- but I was eager to give these a try.

Jane Russell's Handmade Sausages
Donnybrook fair is about 20 minutes from my house, but I get to walk through the lovely Herbert park (click link for photos of Herbert park) on the way. I carried a shopping bag this time and left my trolley at home. Let me just tell you up front that this store is going to be a problem for me! What an amazing selection of enticing and beautiful food items. Naturally, its not cheap. So, I will have to be careful of how often I go there, but I certainly had fun today and I found my sausages.

Here are some of the food items that I ended up buying at Donnybrook Fair...


fruit, veg, milk, wine, orange infused alchoholic ginger beer, dark chocolate rice cakes


goose fat! coconut oil, ginger beet chutney, Irish sea salt and tuna fish in olive oil




Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Grocery Shopping (finally some photos)

Going grocery shopping in a new or foreign country is one of my favorite activities. Ireland is not really new or foreign to me, but I still don't regularly grocery shop here. So, my first grocery shopping trip is definitely exciting. I just love to walk each aisle and ogle all of the fare. Even if its stuff I don't buy. I generally try not to buy too many things with labels and packaging (I stick with mostly vegetables, fruit, meat and fish) but I love to look at all the labels, packages and expensive marketing when I am in a new place. I am even way more tempted to buy these things, because I love, love, love trying new food. I would also generally avoid the baked goods at home, but I love to look at the freshly baked breads and pastries in a new locale.

I also usually do most of my food shopping at a Farmer's Market and I definitely plan to start exploring the locale markets here quite soon, but this particular trip was to my closest Superquinn (a pretty standard supermarket.) Seeing as escrow has not yet closed (ugh), we have not yet bought a car. We don't really need one as we are very centrally located, but we will still get one for the occasional errand and for the more important road trips we plan to take. The closest Superquinn is about a 25 minute walk from our house, so I set out on foot with the new shopping trolley that I bought at Ikea (click to read about that trip) last weekend.

It was a lovely walk, mostly along the canal to the supermarket.


Once at the supermarket, I had to insert a Euro coin into the shopping cart, in order to detach it from the other carts. I could only remove my coin once I had re-attached my cart at the end of my shopping trip. (No abandoning carts in the parking lot here, unless you want to lose your euro- a very efficient way of making sure carts are put back where you got them)


The shopping cart also has a nifty hook for my shopping trolley on the front.


I didn't take any photos of food on this trip, as I realized at this point that I needed to hurry in order to shop and get back in time to pick up the kids from school. Will share some fun foods and packaging another time....

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dublin scenic tour, part II

Today the kids started at their new school.  They were very excited to put on their school uniforms this morning. To them, uniforms seem very Harry Potter-esque. It was so lovely that after breakfast, we could all just walk around the corner together and wait for the school gate to open. The school is in an old house, so it feels Harry Potter-esque also. The kids were welcomed warmly by their teachers and new classmates. When I picked them up, they both declared they had a great day. Sounds great, right? Well it is, but let me rewind a little...

I couldn't sleep last night. You would think it was me who was having my first day of school. Luckily I have been reading a very enjoyable book, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire (thanks for the recommendation, Doris.) So, I stayed up quite late and finished my book, but still didn't sleep all too well. It was a very windy night and we had put quite a few bags of Ikea packaging materials out on the curb for bin (garbage/recycling) collection this morning. I kept hearing noises and picturing the trash and packing materials being whipped up and blown around the street. I think I was partly concerned we were not making a great first impression with our new neighbors (none of whom we have even seen or met.) For instance, late Saturday night, DH was investigating knobs and gadgets by the front door and found we have a panic alarm. It's really, really loud. It took a few minutes to figure out how to turn it off. Then after our Ikea delivery yesterday, the evening was spent pounding and hammering Ikea furniture together. Our little townhome shares the walls on each side with other houses. So, I was feeling a little worried that we were being obnoxious new neighbors.

Anyway, so I couldn't sleep and kept waking up. By 6am, I decided I may as well get up and go for a run to explore our new hood and get started on a (hopefully) regular exercise routine. I figured that a half hour run would give me plenty of time to get back and showered before I had to get the kids up. This is where my morning deviates from being great. I ran down a street that I knew would take me towards the strand and then turned to run along the water. At 15 minutes out, I turned to go back. At first I thought I was on the same road, but soon began to realize this was not the road I had come down. The first clue was that when I was first running, the big Aviva stadium was on my right. Now running back, the stadium was on my right again. It was still dark out and the streets look quite similar, but the stadium could not have moved. Also, I do not have a working cellphone yet, so I don't have my usual navigation and I couldn't make a call.

Dublin is definitely not arranged on a grid, like many parts of Los Angeles, so the streets wind and end and are really quite maze-like. They will also only have the same name for two blocks and then the name changes. I seemed to be running away from our house rather than towards it. I came to the train tracks and there was a little dark lane running alongside them. A tall man in what looked like a top hat and black coat turned to go down the lane. It reminded me of a Dickens novel. I knew that we lived near the station, so I questioned whether it was wise to follow that tall man down the dark lane. I was worried that if I went forward I would stay on this maze of streets that all looked the same but were not bringing me out to a main road. At least I knew my way from the train station. So, I decided to go for it. I ran past him a good distance and came to a gate. The gate was locked. I thought maybe the tall man had a card or something that would open the gate, but decided I could easily scale the wall beside the gate and get over without any card. After scaling the gate, I kept running and came to what must be the Dodder river. I crossed the river and came to a dead end, not the train station. I knew if I followed the river that I would get to a place near our house. So, I turned and ran and then hit another set of closed gates. This time, the gates were tall and they seemed to lead to a construction site, not more of the path. Ugh.

I turned around and decided to run back. It was already close to 7am and I was getting quite panicky. I knew that DH and the kids were getting up at 7 and I was not going to be there. Would I even get back in time to bring them to their first day of school? I couldn't call and let them know. I saw the tall man walking towards me and wondered where he was going and how he had gotten through the first gate. He was very elegantly dressed to have scaled the wall, like I did. Again, his presence made me a little apprehensive, but I decided to ask him for directions. He was surprised to hear that the second set of gates were locked, but said it was likely because the storm had caused a flood warning for the Dodder. He said that he would need to turn back too but if I got back to the road where I had encountered the train tracks and followed it instead of turning, I would get to the south end of Ballsbridge. I could find my way from there. So, I backtracked and went across the tracks and ended up at the RDS. The winds were very heavy at this point and I was running into a headwind. It was pouring rain and all I could think of was the kids. Though, I was quite far south from my house, I fortunately knew my way from here. No more shortcuts along the train tracks, no more labyrinthine housing estates, no more locked gates along the river. I had been running for over an hour and was so worried about the kids waking up to no mom on their first day of school.

I arrived home to find them all eating breakfast in our toasty little kitchen. DH had figured I had gone running and gotten lost, but asked me not to explore our hood until after the kids are in school in future. It was all uphill from there though!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Out of Ikea in a little less than 8 hours

Yes, folks, you read that correctly. Today, we made it out of Ikea in just under 8 hours, with only 2 meals and one snack in their cafeteria.  Listen up, you can too.

For illustration purposes, I will recount our day:

DH set his phone alarm for 7:30am. During the night we played our usual musical beds: DH and I started out the night in our room. Then in the middle of the night one comes in and so there are three in the bed. Then the next one plus the dog come in, and that is too much (its even too much back in L.A. where we had a king size bed, but the bed here is just a double), so DH moves to the kids room (either with the second kid, or alone and leaving me with both plus dog.) So, when DH's alarm goes off, he was not there to hear it. I heard it, but it sounded like lovely birds chirping and I dozed in and out of sleep listening to the lovely birds, waiting for the alarm to go off. The sun rises here at 8:39am, so it was around that time that I realized we should wake up. We had hoped to get to Ikea by 9:30am for their opening time and Ikea is about 30 minutes from us. We jumped up, got the groggy kids up and jumped in the car.

We made it to Ikea at about 9:40am and took the kids to the cafeteria to have some breakfast. After breakfast, we headed down to Smaland, so the kids could play while we shopped. We deliriously thought we could get everything done while they were playing there. When we got to smaland, they told us the next session started at 11:00 and we would need to pick them up by 11:40. So, we waited with them for smaland and then rushed off to look for all the things we needed. *Note, I had spent almost two days measuring walls and closets and nooks in our little house. Then perusing the Ikea website with my numbers logged, plotting what we could fit where, in order to fit our whittled down stuff, which was now seeming like a lot in our new micro space. I had a very concise list.

We got through about a quarter of Ikea, when DH got a semi-snarky call from Smaland to say we were supposed to pick the kids up 5 minutes ago. We rushed down there, got the kids and they wanted a snack. So back to the cafeteria at noon, with a long line. After the snack, we got through the rest of Ikea, but realized we had missed the closet section, which DH needed to visit in order to pick out some extra Pax wardrobes for our bedroom. Then the kids were hungry again, it was 2pm and we conceded, they needed lunch.

After lunch, we headed to the warehouse section to look for all of the items that we had noted "aisle and location" for. This took quite a while and half of what we wanted was not in stock. We made it to the cashier, with our bulging cart AND bulging flat trolley by 4pm. After ringing up a hefty bill (for clothes pins, and clocks, and shopping trolleys and such, as well as half of the pieces of furniture we wanted) we headed to the "pick up" window, followed by the "arrange delivery" window.

We were passing through the exit a little before 5pm. So, you heard it here folks, we made it out of Ikea in under 8 hours!!! Unfortunately, not everything we wanted was in stock, so we will need to return again. Hopefully, it will not be with children (even though Ikea is very child friendly.) Maybe I will set a world record and get out of Ikea in under 7 hours next time. Stay tuned, you may be amazed folks. How was your day?


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Adventures in driving

Today's big adventure involved my getting behind the wheel of our rental car to get to the big shopping center in Dundrum. The kids need to have black shoes and white sneakers for school and I did not have time to get these before leaving. Sounds pretty mundane, right? It should be, but there were a few variables that upped the level of excitement.

1. The car is a manual transmission. Its been a while since I have driven a stick, and I am used to the shift being on the right. So, I kept grabbing the door handle to shift. The car also didn't have a key. You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, except that when I stalled, the first instinct was to reach for the key to restart and then panic when I couldn't immediately remember how to get this car re-started while I sat in the middle of the intersection with cars waiting for me to turn. Deep breath!

2. They drive on the left side of the road here and the driver's side is on the right. Not the orientation I am used to. So, I did end up turning onto the wrong side of the road once. Luckily there were no cars coming my direction at the time.

3. I do not yet have a phone that works here and the car did not come with navigation. I also don't have a printer, so I could not print out directions. So, I just decided to wing it and see if I could find my way there. I think this is what made the trip the most difficult, I was just maxed out on how many things I needed to concentrate on.

4. I had my kids in the car. Those of you who see me on a regular basis, have surely heard me bemoan driving with these two sparring partners. For those of you who don't know, let me tell you, they fight like cats and dogs regularly, but in the car they take it to a new level! They have taken the lids off their water bottles and flung water at each other. I have given them electronic devices to distract them and they throw them at each other. Their whole purpose for being, while I am driving, is to figure out what will drive their sibling the most nuts. Its a very, very distracting environment! In L.A., I pull over regularly until they pipe down, but that was a little harder here on the narrow streets with nowhere to pull over.

I think it took me about a half hour to go the 3.8 miles to the shopping center. It was definitely not a direct route. Let's just call it a scenic tour of suburban Dublin. But I only stalled once! I think I got honked at, like, 3 times max. I hit no pedestrians or vehicles whatsoever. I did hit a curb, going kind of fast and thought I might flip the car (the kids loved it though.) I also think I came really close to side-swiping a garbage truck, but closing my eyes and cursing seemed to help. Other than that, I think I did really well. We got their shoes, we're all still alive and I think that was the quietest my kids have ever been in the car.