Saturday, February 22, 2014

Glendalough

Today we took our first real outing in the car. We decided to go to Glendalough. Glendalough is in County Wicklow, which is just to the south of County Dublin. Wicklow is known as the garden of Ireland and is a popular destination for tourists, hikers and triathletes. Glendalough is an ancient monastic site in the "valley of two lakes." It is only about a 40 minute drive from our house. There are lovely ruins to explore and many trails to take walks along. It started to rain about an hour after we got there, so we headed to a local pub for some lunch and a Guinness.We are already planning our next trip back, bringing Pepper and a picnic, some rain gear and a map of the trails.

Here are some photos I took on today's excursion:
















Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Night school

When I arrived in Dublin, I decided that it would be a good idea to sign up for a night class. Seeing as I don't really know anyone (except my dad) in Dublin, I figured that it would get me out and maybe even meeting people. Back when we moved to New Zealand, I signed up for a guitar class and that was really a big part of me starting to write songs. Seeing as my music (and everything else) has been on the back-burner for a while, I decided to take a digital music production class this time around. It has been my goal, for a quite a while now, to learn some kind of software that will allow me to work independently. I don't need to be able to do anything fancy, but I would like to be able to just play around with layering some interesting sounds under my acoustic recordings. I have played around with Reason a little bit, but never had enough time to get anywhere. Anyway, I found a cool, artsy collective called Block T that had on offering for a beginners Abelson Live class, so I decided to sign up.

Last night was my first class. The class was fine, nothing much to report. After class though, I had a bit of "fun" getting home. Block T is in an area of Dublin called Smithfield. It's very central, there are lots of businesses there, in fact DH works in Smithfield. But it also has a little edge to it. DH has told me about colleagues of his getting mugged in the parking lot and about encountering some "interesting" people there at night. So at the end of class, I asked if anyone was walking to the underground parking structure, as I was a little nervous going on my own. They all kind of looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language or maybe I had just sprouted two heads. After explaining what I was talking about, a few different ways, one gentleman said he would walk that way with me. We parted ways at the parking structure however, so I headed into that desolate, creepy, underground cavern by myself. That was the part I was actually most nervous about. Needless to say, I was really eager to move as fast as I could, find my car and get out of there.

Firstly, though, I had to prepay my parking ticket. I knew from driving in that the evening had a flat rate of 4 euros. I had a 5 euro bill in hand, ready to go. I find the ticketing machines and AGGGHHH!!!






WTF???? I root through my coin purse, spend more time than I wanted counting out my 10's and 20's and I don't have 4 euros worth. All I have are bills and credit cards! On the walk to the parking structure, I had not noticed anything open where I could maybe get change. My escort was long gone and I didn't see anyone else around (which originally would have been a relief.) I had no idea how far I would have to walk to find a store, but I was not eager to go wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood. So, I ran down the few flights of stairs into the garage, in search of my car, to see if there were any stray coins. (We just bought the car, so I was not that optimistic.) This was not how I had planned to get out as fast as possible. I got to the car and found a few coins in the bottom of a shopping bag. But it was not enough. Ugh. I headed back across the lot and up the stairs instead of the elevator (totally creepy stairs!) and I find a 50 cent coin!!! Oh, the relief. You have no idea. That gets me enough to get out of the lot. So, up the last flight to the machine. Luckily, this adventure was not as exciting as it could be, but my heart was pounding pretty hard.

So, finally, I get in my car and I can't figure out how to lock the door from the inside (this car is new to me remember) and I want to sit there and try to get my navigation set. So, I nervously fumble with my phone while trying to keep my eyes on my surroundings. I can't connect to the network, probably because I am underground, so I just drive out and hope it kicks in once I am outside. Unfortunately, it doesn't kick in until I am maybe half way home. This is my first time driving at night in Dublin, it is raining and it is not a fun city to drive in anyway. The streets are narrow and windey and most of them are one way. The city is, in no way, laid out on a grid. So if you turn down a street, it is not obvious what direction that street will end up taking. I was driving all over the place, not knowing if I was even getting closer to my house and yes, I even managed to turn down a street going the wrong way and not find out until it winds around and there are headlights coming towards me with horns blaring. I had to do a multiple point U-turn, the street was so narrow, while the oncoming traffic backed up. Ugh. I got out of the one-way street in one piece and finally at some point navigation kicks in. I finally made it home safely, questioning whether I really even need to be a musician at all. BTW, does getting your heart rate up while driving count as exercise? I hope so, because I will be in great shape very soon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We bought a car!

On Sunday morning, we bought a car! We have spent the last month discussing every car that drives past. We ogle the cars parked on the side of the road as we walk. There are many totally different brands and models here, so it feels like a kid going into a new candy shop where everything is a just a little bit different, slightly different colors, slightly different shapes (especially the French cars- Peugeot, Renault and Citroen!) We decided that we didn't want to spend a lot on a car, as we will really only be using it for the occasional errand and outing. Also, cars are much more expensive here, due to the taxes and we still plan to mostly get around by foot and bike (I will not get lazy, I will not get lazy!) After switching from a minivan to a Fiat last year, I have fallen in love with driving a little car. So, I really wanted a small, hatchback type of thing. Especially here, where the roads can be narrow and parking spaces are some crazy, tiny set of dimensions. You would not believe what it's like trying to park at the supermarket. It scares me so much in fact, that I may just do my grocery store shopping online (for the things I can't get at the Farmer's Market) and have it delivered.

Anyway, my dad had asked his mechanic, who he buys all his cars through, to look out for a car for us. It was comforting to know that what we buy would have been checked over by him to ensure we didn't end up with a lemon. Though I admit it was hard to wait and not just jump on carsireland.ie or donedeal.ie and run out and buy something that immediately struck our fancy. But after turning down a couple of potential cars, something finally came in that we were happy with. (We bought an 8 year old car that has only 23,000 miles on it. That's crazy.) I have a long list of errands "to do" once we have a car and I am very eager to get started on that. There are also people scattered around the country that I am eager to visit. I am so excited to explore the countryside in greater detail than that which I can cram into a two week visit

Driving a car is not just a matter of getting the car, though!

1. Driving License
We can actually drive for a year on our California driver's license, but we will both have to get an Irish license before the year is up. So within the year, I must apply for an Irish driving licence. This involves going through the full driver licensing procedure. I must first complete a driver theory test (using this book to study.) Of course, when I went to book my test online, one of the required fields is "MTO (driver number)" which is apparently my drivers license number. Problem is I need to take this test in order to get a license number. ARGGGGGH, Once I get my test taken (once I figure out how to book it) then I apply for a learner driving permit (which involves a long list of forms and procedures), then drive around with a big, red "L" sticker (it doesn't stand for Laverne or even Loser, however much it feels like it) on our car for a while and then complete a driving test in Ireland. Once we pass the driving test, we will be issued with a full Irish driving licence. Phew, must get started on all that, because it will probably take me a year especially with stupid online roadblocks in place.


2. Car Insurance
You can not drive a car here without it being insured, and you get a disc that has to be displayed in the front windshield. So, our car had to sit in the driveway til we sorted out insurance. I spent all of Monday on the phone with a variety of insurance agencies that I sourced from the web or from personal recommendation. Some of them will not even give me a quote because we have no driving record in Ireland. One company I talked to quoted me over 2500 euros (calculated using today's exchange rate that works out to 3407.50 US Dollars!) a year because we have no record and so are no different from any new driver (even though I have been driving for 25 years now and have never had an accident or claim.) We basically need to wait until we are here a year for our insurance to go down to a decent rate. Anyway, last night we finally got our insurance taken care of and I now have wings, I mean wheels.

3. Parking
We are really lucky that we have a driveway in front of our house. This is an old city and many of the houses and streets were built before there were cars. So parking space is not a given. Many streets have resident parking permits and even our street has "Pay and Display or Permit Parking Only." There are not a whole lot of spaces though. So, a visitor can park (and pay) for up to 3 hours (if they find a vacant spot), or if we got a second car, then we could pay 400 euros a year for a street parking permit.

4. Toll roads
There are a lot of toll roads, bridges and even the third-longest urban motorway tunnel in Europe. Some of these have toll booths, where you can just pay as you go (if you have Euros on you!), but some use a video system to bill you via your vehicle registration info. I am told there is actually quite a bit of fraud in this area with people making fake license plates. So, the best bet is to pre-register for an electronic transponder thingy-majig called an electronic toll tag. You can do that here.

So, hopefully I will now be able to post about some fun road-trips!


Monday, February 10, 2014

running errands

Running errands (on foot) is just so pleasant when your neighborhood looks like this.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Local bounty at the Farmer's Market

I know I have been posting a lot about food lately. Food is fascinating though, right? I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks so! Sourcing food in a new environment is really a thrilling adventure for me. Today my dad was heading over to the Leopardstown Racecourse Farmer's Market, in search of some cheese, and he invited me along. He knows I share his appreciation for fresh and artisinal food. Apparently this is one of the oldest Farmer's Markets in Dublin and it used to be "The One." My dad hadn't been out there in quite a few years and he said that it used to be much, much bigger.

My dad did not find the cheese he was looking for, but I was very happy to find the McNally Family Farm was there. I have previously been to their stand at the Dun Laoghaire market and was thrilled by the variety and quality of all their locally grown vegetables. In total contrast with my last post about all the foreign produce in the supermarket, today I am celebrating all the local produce available to me, in the middle of winter, so far up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Today the McNally's had carrots, beets, different varieties of potatoes, scallions, chard, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbages, turnips, squashes, mixed greens, spicy greens, dandelion greens, a variety of herbs and more, all grown here in Dublin on the same farm. I find that pretty impressive (and blog-worthy.)







They also sometimes have duck eggs (which are AMAZING) and dairy products, like milk, butter and yogurts. I love these choices and filled my basket with veg. I also picked up some local, organic beef meatballs, eggs, smoked mackeral and some brown seeded soda bread from some other vendors. As usual, there were many other things that I could have bought but I only had 30 euro with me. I think I did pretty good!



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jet-set Produce


Because we have not yet purchased a car, I have been a bit limited in where I do my food shopping. Back in L.A. I went to a farmer's market twice a week. Sundays were either Atwater Village or Hollywood, and Wednesdays were a joyful afternoon with friends at the Altadena market. All year long, I could get a great variety of locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. I would supplement my market shopping with trips to Trader Joes and Whole Foods as well as online purchases from Amazon and occasionally US Wellness Meats.

I have been checking out a few Farmer's Markets here and so far, the Sunday morning market in Dun Laoghaire is my favorite. Lots of great, locally sourced fruits, vegetables and meats. As well as a nice variety of cooked foods to try. Its definitely a fun Sunday outing and I have been tagging along with my Dad on many a Sunday as he frequents this market too. But, I definitely need a car or a ride to get out there. I have not yet found a good mid-week market, but I will keep looking, as I prefer to buy produce and meat twice a week. The mid week markets that I have found so far are "lunchtime markets" that have a lot of booths serving cooked food. They are surely fun to visit, but don't meet my food shopping needs.

So, I have been buying most of my food from the conventional grocery stores Superquinn and Tesco (metro) along with a small supplement of specialty items from the fabulous, but pricey Donnybrook Fair. Just like in Los Angeles, most of the produce at the conventional grocery store is not locally sourced (and probably not organic). I find it fascinating to see all of the "exotic" places that my produce has been sourced from:

Snap Peas from Guatemala and Green Beans from Kenya
Grapes from South Africa
Blackberries from Mexico
Raspberries from Morocco

Bell Peppers from Spain
Butternut Squash from Spain
Bananas from Belize
Only my onions, brussel sprouts and apples were from Ireland:







Tuesday, February 4, 2014

School in the daytime

A month after our arrival, there is now daylight when we walk to school. Seemed to happen quite suddenly.


Click here to see a graph of sunrise, sunset and daylight in Dublin for the year.