30.04.2012 - 17.05.2012
Europe & The World
23.07.2011 - 14.08.2011
The next three weeks were to be spent in the village of Carnew in the southern part of Co Wicklow.
We drove from New Ross on the Friday evening after work, and found the GP, his wife and 6 teenagers excitedly packing their surfboards for their annual holiday in Kerry. “The Shed” is a stylishly renovated cottage in their garden, fitted out by Ikea, and was to be ours for the next three weeks. It is situated in the countryside, about 2km from the village and surrounded by ripe wheatfields, grazing cattle and sheep.
The country lanes are lovely to explore on foot [as long as you don't get mown down by a combine harvester!]
On David's birthday Sandi prepared a delicious 3 course banquet-for-two: mixed seafood starter followed by roast lamb and veg, finishing off with a divine Pavlova-ish meringue concoction with freshly made lemon curd and thick cream!
On Saturday David had to drive down to Waterford for a long overnight shift. Sandi needed a homeopathic remedy which we did not have with us, so we Googled and phoned health shops, but they did not stock any either. We were given the name of a local homeopath in Thomastown, which was halfway to Waterford. We arranged to meet on Sunday to pick up the remedy. She told us about the local arts festival, so we decided to make a day of it, as David had managed to get a few hours sleep on his shift. We had a lovely chat with Breda and her English husband Jerry over a cup of tea, and found we had a lot of common interests. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the galleries and studios of Thomastown, looking at mosaics, ceramics, paintings, wood sculptures and crafts.
Breda had also informed us about the arts festival in Kilkenny, so we made that our project for Wednesday afternoon. Again it was about an hour’s drive away, but the countryside is so beautiful to drive through. First stop was a lovely old pub called Kyteler’s Bar, for a hot pub lunch as it was raining and cold and we were starving. At last we found the renowned Kilkenny draught, which no-one else in Ireland seems to sell. There were lots of foreigners in town, but not a lot of art to see. Flowers everywhere made the streets very attractive.
Most of the shows were at times or dates that were not suitable for us, so after a few hours of trudging, and a severe case of “Disney foot”, we decided to call it a day.
All too soon the three weeks came to an end and it was time for Sandi to catch her plane to Scotland. On Sunday David dropped her at Dublin airport and drove down to New Ross in time for the evening shift at Caredoc. Two memorable home visits were made on consecutive shifts to two patients that are so fat they cannot ever get out of bed - one was an elderly man and the other a woman in her thirties - incredible that people can get to that point!
10.07.2011 - 23.07.2011 18 °C
On Sunday, after a final leisurely farm breakfast at Hillview Farm, we bade Rosemary the Poach-Egg Princess a fond farewell, and made our way down the Barrow River valley to New Ross. Our home for the next week [which turned into 2 weeks] was to be at Glendower House with our hosts Michael and Margaret, where we had spent the last 3 weeks of our walk-about, in the winter, last November.
Margaret's large garden is full of colour now, in sharp contrast to the pristine covering of snow last time we were here.
Tuesday was half day, so we decided to visit the JFK [Kennedy] Arboretum again, as the weather was sunny and mild. The last time we visited here was in early spring and Sandi had sprained her ankle at the start of our walk, so hobbling the route wasn't much fun, even though she stoically refused to abandon the outing. Again we marvelled at the variety and splendour of the trees.
On the way home we met with the couple for a van-showing, and Sandi and his delightful wife hit it off immediately. They spent some time viewing the virtues of the van, which they appeared to love. So, with mixed emotions, we suddenly had a buyer, but we were thrilled that Mr Stubby was going to a good home! Since they have four sons, they were keen to use the van for what remained of their summer holidays, which left us needing to immediately find transport for our remaining time in Ireland.
As there was no work anywhere for David on Sunday, we spent the day booking airtickets from Dublin to Edinburgh, and from Edinburgh to Gatwick. Sandi also started looked at the donedeal website for secondhand cars, as we realised that buying a car was still going to be much cheaper than renting one, as summer care hire costs are astronomical. Courtesy of our kind B&B host, we had the option of leaving the car in Ireland at Glendower House, selling it, or finding locums to use it and defray costs that way. As we were soon to discover, compulsory car insurance in Ireland is not cheap i.e. €560 pa, if you do not have a “claim-free bonus”. Motor tax adds another €425 pa! We finished off the day by treating ourselves to a pub dinner at the Horse and Hounds - a nice change from bedroom fodder!
On Monday, our host, Michael, contacted his garage man, who quickly arranged for a Polish man, who sells cars in his spare time, to contact us. He brought around a silver Ford Mondeo 1.6 for us to look at. It was perfect for our needs: big lockable boot, 11 years old, in great condition, drives like a dream, and we negotiated a price of €725. We were thrilled to have found such a bargain so quickly! We spent our afternoon off, unpacking, cleaning and clearing out Mr Stubby before driving him off [in tandem with the "new" car] to his new home in beautiful, coastal Tramore. Quite a hectic day: bidding a sad farewell to one and the excitement of buying another!
01.07.2011 - 09.07.2011
On the way to Waterford, we stopped in at New Ross to buy some airtime for the phones and internet dongle. The roads into the centre of Waterford were all closed for the Tall Ships Festival, and 3 large Park ‘n Rides with shuttle buses were in operation, coping very efficiently with the half million visitors. We parked in the CareDoc carpark and from there only had a short walk into town. There were thousands of people on the quay in a very festive mood. Queues were long to explore the ships, but there were plenty of stalls to browse, and foods to buy.
We trudged slowly back to the van to catch up on a little sleep, as David had a full night’s duty ahead. Fortunately the patients were distracted from their ailments by the festival, so the shift was quiet and David snatched a few hours sleep in the duty room, while Sandi slept in the van outside. Even the firework display did not disturb us.
On Saturday the sun came out so we took the opportunity to give Mr Stubby a good clean and scrub.
David worked that evening till midnight, then joined Sandi in the van for a few hours. We needed to make an early start the next day, as we had to drive 2 hours up to our accommodation for the week ahead, drop Sandi to settle in, with David needing to get back into Carlow by 9am for the day’s duty.
Breakfast each day consisted of the best eggs we've eaten in Ireland, in over 2 years, prepared by B&B owner, Rosemary - the Poached-egg Princess of the Universe!
We laughed at the frisky calves, who played like children at dusk every day. The long summer evenings, spent looking over the hills and trying to talk to the calves, were very relaxing.
About a maid I'll sing a song ……… sing rickety tickety tin [melody and words available on application]
22.10.2010 - 30.11.2010
We decided to go back to Ireland to work for the last 6 weeks, before returning home, to replenish our dwindling coffers. We were soon to discover that the financial turmoil in Ireland had become even worse than before.
We arrived in Monaghan, and were met by the GP's wife who showed us the apartment we were to stay in. She had kindly put some roses on the table, and milk, white bread and marg in the fridge [which we secretly passed on to the surgery staff the next day, since these goodies are not part of our chosen wholefood diet].
The following two weeks were spent in the GP practice during the week, with David travelling for several hours on the weekends to do CareDOC shifts in Carlow. Even though the weather was brighter down south, it remained gloomy and depressing in Monaghan, which is wayup north, near the northern Ireland border. David couldn't stop commenting on the majority of people in the town, who he thinks are very sloppily dressed and who all look depressed - much like the shopping-mall population we observed in Livingston [Scotland]. Is this sad phenomenon due to the weather or the economy? Who knows.
We were surprised to see how big Halloween is in Ireland. The shops are full of costumes and scary decor, and in the housing estates swarms of kids mob the houses "trick-or-treating". Every town and village seems to have their own fireworks display. When David returned from Carlow, he had to face his own Halloween surprise!
We decided to finally start our low-carb diet while staying in the apartment. The idea is to eat no more than 20gm of net carbs a day (did you know that a tomato contains 3gm of carb?) It means that one eats mainly protein and fats, which is actually easier than it sounds. Vegetables are restricted to mostly raw or steamed greens [not that we mind that], but most fruit was off limits initially. Our digestive discomfort rapidly disappeared, and hunger was not a problem as one remained satisfied for up to 6 hours. We even had hot cocoa [yay for organic Green & Black's cocoa powder] in the evenings, with a dollop of [lactose-free] cream - what a treat!
Within a couple of weeks we had each lost 2kg and pulled our belts in a notch! The only problem with such restricted eating plans can be constipation, for which Psyllium husk powder is recommended. When water is added it swells alarmingly into a gelatinous mass, and can be a challenge to get down! Sandi swallows it nestled into a bowl of sugar-free jelly, dubbed Psilly-jelly by us, which makes it palatable for her. David has his with soya sauce and pretends he is eating dim sum! Research has shown that when one consumes little carbohydrate, one's metabolism converts to burning fat. Also the high fat intake is not harmful to cholesterol levels, if the carb intake is kept low, and eggs are free range.
David came across some more interesting Irish names among the patients: Sadhbh (pronounced Sive), Saoirse (Sersha), Cahill or Cathal (Ca-al), Aodhaghan (Agorn), Aoibhinn (Avin) and Eoghain (Owen). We both find some of the more rural Irish accents difficult to understand, but generally the lilting accents are a delight to the ear.
The following two weeks were spent at a GP practice in New Ross, down in the SE of Ireland .
We stayed in a B&B called Glendower House, and continued our slim-down eating plan by enjoying a standard Irish breakfast every morning, without black and white puddings and potato hash browns, and added some grapefruit. Dinner would be roast chicken and coleslaw or green salad, with chicken salad the next day, or smoked salmon, or cold meats and cheese, etc. All a tad tricky without cooking facilities - but we managed with some innovative planning. Since we were avoiding bread, Sandi created salmon or salami rolls [in place of sandwiches] with layers of lettuce and mayonnaise, rolled up into little bundles - delicious! One evening we brought the induction cooker/hot plate in from the van, and fried some chops and caourgettes on the bathroom floor. Unfortunately, the bathroom and bedroom reeked of garlic and chops for 2 days, forcing Sandi to burn incense for several days to dissipate the pong. Oh, the joys of confined living!
The last 10 days in Ireland were spent doing CareDOC after-hours shifts in various locations, so we decide to extend our stay at the Glendower, as we had a lovely big room and bathroom, and it was fairly central to the shifts in Wexford, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Clonmel and Cashel, none of which are more than 90 minutes drive away.
The Irish people are very angry with the Taoiseach [Head of Government] and the ruling Fianna Fáil party [Soldiers of Destiny] for the mess that the country is in. After the Celtic Tiger boom years, we now have the Celtic Crash, and in fact today [26 Nov], an Irish newspaper has issued a pack of playing cards with faces and quotations of the main poker-faced politicians and bankers/jokers responsible for gambling away the fortunes of an entire country.
We were pleasantly surprised to meet up with Bob and Bear again [our house-sit chums from France], who came to Ireland to view a boat they were hoping to purchase. They drove up to visit Sandi one morning and then we drove down later to join them at their hotel in Co Wicklow for a cosy winter dinner and catch-up.
At this point, with no further offers for the van, Bob and Bear kindly offered that we could park the van on their property in Truro, Cornwall, for a few months, until our return. We have realised we will have to return to Ireland to replenish the coffers after a few months, since we don't yet have any work lined up back home. We would use the van while working in Ireland and probably do some more camping, before selling it in the summer, which would be a much better time to sell it anyway. We decided to purchase a motorhome cover to protect it from the ravages of winter weather, so Mr Stubby is going into hibernation until Spring.
On the last weekend, David was to work in Gorey, about an hour's drive from New Ross, but thereby hangs a tale. On the Saturday morning we were astonished to open the curtains to a white wonderland outside our window! We were in the midst of a heavy snowfall as temperatures plummeted.
David set off with trepidation down the road, which was so thickly covered in snow and sludge, that he could only travel at 15km/hr. After 20 minutes, and not even out of the town yet, he called CareDOC to advise them of the impossibility of getting to the treatment centre in Gorey. Parked on the side of the road, he observed another van slithering crab-like down the hill towards him! He turned around and crept carefully back to the B&B - much to Sandi's relief.
The following morning he was up early to reassess the situation for the Sunday shift. The van doors were frozen closed, as the overnight temperature was a record -7.5 degrees! Michael, who runs the B&B, advised that the roads would be very icy and treacherous, so David had to beg off duty again. Another day's earnings were lost, but David survives to live another day!
And so, sadly, our two year walk-about comes to an end. Can it really be two years already? The time has just flown by. It has been a wonderful opportunity for new work and leisure experiences, which we could not have enjoyed without the opportunity of earning euros in Ireland. Out of 22 months away, we have spent 9 months in Ireland, working to finance our travels, and also having to send a considerable amount home each month for mortgages, insurances, wages, etc. Keeping the home coffers liquid in fact took 50% of our monthly budget, which meant we had to live frugally - something that could be a bit frustrating at times. However, the work in Ireland was a real blessing, without which our journey would have been very different - so no complaints!
Pondering our adventures so far, we find it has been a time of new togetherness for us both, as we have had more time in each other's company than at any other time in our 30 years of married life. We have tried to enjoy each day to the full and attempted to "live in the moment/present" and actually put our personal philosophy to the test. There have been difficult times, during which we have helped and supported each other, but those have been balanced out by the times we have fun, interspersed with joyful belly-laughs that we still have together, just about daily. It has been a very freeing time, as we shed most of the attachments (both emotional and professional) and responsibilities which occupied our busy lives at home. We have also eschewed many material comforts, in order to travel like gypsies on the road; but this makes our appreciation of comfort even greater when it is present. We are grateful every day for our many blessings, not least of which are our loving family and friends, many of whom have kept in touch and cheered our hearts when we have felt most alone.
03.09.2010 - 13.09.2010
We were excited to spend the last 10 days in Cork city, as it was one of the few places in Ireland that we had not yet visited. Exploring the centre of town was like finally arriving in civilisation after weeks spent in the outback! This was partly due to it being a university city, but also due to it being a city renowned as a centre for art and culture. The centre of the old city is on an island in the river Lee, and has a village atmosphere.
The first five days were spent at Killarney Lodge B&B, which provided an excellent breakfast every morning, something David found very welcome on his return from his "red-eye" shifts. As the en suite toilets and showers had been installed in the bedrooms long after the building had been built, they are tiny, and one has to manoevre oneself under the basin to sit on the toilet. Even thinking of drying oneself after a shower, with the door closed, is physically impossible.
We enjoyed the atmosphere and abundant variety of goods in the old English Market, which reminded us of the Biscuit Mill market back home in Woodstock, except that this one has been in existence since 1788. Parking in the city was mostly height restricted, but we found an open car park which cost €7.50 for 3 hours [what can one do except pay up!].
We felt like salmon for lunch, so bought 2 pieces and a frying pan [as our pots and pans had already been packed up] for less than the cost of a take-away. We drove up and down the river Lee looking for a scenic spot where we could cook and eat our lunch, with no luck. So we headed back to the B&B and cooked up our lunch in the van in the rather shabby car park area at the back of the building. Since it was raining we had to stay inside Mr Stubby, but a glass of wine, scrumptious fresh salmon, and a creamy salad made up for the lack of ambience!
David usually managed to get a few hours sleep on his shifts, which gave us time to enjoy the better part of the day. Having explored the sights in the city, we thought it would be good to visit a farmer's market advertised at Hosford Garden Centre, about 30 minutes drive away. We collapsed laughing when we discovered that the said farmer's market consisted of a nun selling crochet handiwork and about 5 other stalls. David tried to take a photo of the nun and her stall, but she refused [citing security reasons?]
David had one night shift in Newcastlewest [NCW], then a Caredoc meeting in Kilkenny, where we finally met some of the lovely Locumotion staff face-to-face, before returning to Cork City again for a further 3 "red-eye" shifts. As the weather was bright, we opted to make a big detour and visit West Cork and the Beara peninsula on the way to NCW.
We drove past Skibbereen and on to the pretty coastal town of Bantry, which nestles in the hills at the inlet to Bantry Bay.
Driving on through Glengarriff onto the Beara Peninsula, we had stunning views over the bay.
We were amazed to see large bushes of tiny red fuschias growing wild all over West Cork! They thrive well in the temperate climate, and are used in branding and marketing initiatives for the area.
Castletownbere is a little town on an enclosed bay.
We searched the town for fish & chips for lunch, but both shops were closed until 4pm.
Crossing the peninsula we could see Kenmare Bay as we descended to a pretty village called Eyeries.
Unlike many of the drab grey cottahes in other parts of Ireland, the rows of cottages here were painted in gay colours.
When we got back to Cork city we stayed at Brookfield Lodge, also near the University.
We visited the little Butter Museum, which displayed the history of the butter industry in Ireland. Nearby is the St Anne's church with the Shandon bells in the clock tower. The tower is locally known as the "four faced liar" because the four clocks always show different times.
The tower is built of red and white stone [sandstone and limestone] which is mined in Cork and is reflected in the flag of Cork.
On Saturday we drove to nearby Midleton for their annual Food Fair. Driving into the town, we saw no advertising or banners for the event and began to worry that we had the day wrong! Suddenly we got to the centre and found the roads closed off and hundreds of people milling about. We think we could teach the Irish something about better marketing! The market was good fun and we bought the most delicious stollen-like artisan loaf filled with dried apricots and raisins, which we hoped to find again, but no such luck yet.
Next day we explored St Finn Barre's cathedral. Finn Barre was the patron saint of Cork in 600 AD and the present cathedral was built in 1870 on the site of his grave. It contains beautiful carvings, floor mosaics and plenty of red marble from the region.
We set off early the next day as we had a 7 hour drive up to Belfast to catch the ferry to Stranraer, Scotland. The 3 hour ferry trip was followed by a 3 hour drive along narrow, dark, wet roads, dodging "artics" and HGVs to arrive in Livingston by 10pm, thoroughly exhausted, but warmly welcomed by our dear friend Bernie who shooed us off to the most comfortable bed on the planet!
02.08.2010 - 03.09.2010
Having bought a new laptop in Plymouth on our arrival by ferry, we had some software installed and set about restoring the backup from the external hard-drive. Alas our computer troubles were not over! We discovered that the backup, which had been professionally done by our computer man in Cape Town, inexplicably contained only about 5% of all our data. We now had to get used to the idea that all the work done on our stolen laptop for the previous 18 months had gone - besides screeds of Sandi's other data that was needed during our travels. But more was to come, when a week later in Ireland, we discovered that when they had loaded our new software, the new hard drive had became corrupted. After a few more hiccups, which we won't bore you with, and some indescribable to-and-froing between computer experts in RSA, Ireland and Microsoft, we finally have our new laptop working as it should.
We spent the rest of our short time in Ebford packing crates to be shipped home, and stocking up on materials and equipment needed for Sandi's new workshops, scheduled for 2011 launch. The R&D work related to this venture continues unabated, which keeps Sandi busy, busy, busy.
Judy's dahlias were in full bloom, and we were sad to bid farewell to Rob and Judy's delightful cottage, which is to be demolished to make space for three new cottages on the property.
We caught the ferry from Pembroke harbour to Rosslare, and spent the first week working in Toomevara. Our B&B was a grand old three storey house on a huge property, run by a young couple with a lot of very cute kids. We pondered how such a young couple could afford such an enormous property. For David’s birthday we went into nearby Nenagh and had some delicious seafood chowder.
David had 2 daytime shifts in Carlow on the weekend, and we opted to sleep in the van as it was warm enough.
We then had 3 weeks in Monaghan, staying in the GP's home, so we relished the home comforts of our own cooking and wifi and Skybox TV.
We enjoyed following Must be the Music and X Factor series on BBC. While David travelled to Gorey and Letterkenny for weekend shifts, Sandi stayed at "home", trying to research and rewrite as much of the lost computer data as possible. On Sandi’s birthday she prepared a delicious meal, including a banana caramel flan - a favourite from her childhood. We both really appreciated e-mail and phone calls from home for our birthdays. Thanks again!
There is very little of merit to do or see in Monaghan; the most exciting event in the area is advertised below!
A walk in Rossmore park is the only way to stretch one’s legs without breathing in exhaust fumes or being run over. It is an enormous forest estate, the paths of which are poorly signposted, and one could easily be lost for months.
In Monaghan we really felt the bite of the new tax regulations, as the GP deducted 50% tax retrospectively to March, when David first worked in the practice, resulting in zero pay for the third week. Ouch - quite an unexpected shock!! Very disheartening to work a whole week for "nothing". David engaged an accountant in Monaghan to help claim back the maximum tax at the end of the year. So we're holding thumbs.
The speeding fine incurred in Cork in March also came back to bite us. We should have received an option to pay the fine of €80 by post, but only received a summons to appear in court in September! After many enquiries, we learned that there remained no option but to make written representation to the court, which resulted in a judgement of €140. Rather unfair considering our speed had only been 70km/hr, but sometimes one has to draw a line and move on!
The Irish gardens are very pretty in summer with colourful begonias and geraniums. We were rather critical of the gardens in an earlier posting of this blog, and we apologise for that.
Finely manicured hedges and bushes are a national favourite, as almost every garden has some. Hanging baskets in public areas of towns and in front of pubs are charming.
Spending a lot of time on the roads in Ireland provides its challenges. We often get stuck behind slow farm vehicles on the roads, and can't overtake for miles! When this happens we both tend to drift off on our own reveries, which makes best use of a frustrating situation.
At filling stations, one longs for the friendly attendant who cleans your screen, checks the tyres, water and oil as well as filling up. David is tired of getting diesel and grimy smudges on his hands when filling up, and complains that it requires far too much effort to check the oil, water and tyres. Signage on the roads is generally inadequate, and speed restrictions very confusing.
Some home visits were to addresses such as “House next to public toilet, Passage East” or “no 1 white wall” or “The Ruins, Post office square” which turned out not to be next to the post office at all, but where the post office used to be 200 years ago! Fortunately the driver of the medics car knows the area pretty well, but the same does not apply when David is doing house calls when working in a private practice.
The new motorways radiating out from Dublin are very good, but one finds very few services for fuel, rest or food along these roads. The other roads vary enormously in quality and have no rest stops at all, forcing one to drive for hours, before finding a garage that might allow one to use their loo. Often David resorts to African style and uses a bush!
Although the Irish medical system is great in that it provides care for all its people and immigrants, a lot of equipment is thrown away instead of being recycled. The government can ill afford to be so wasteful in the current economic climate. The patients waste resources too, calling for attention at any hour e.g. David was woken at 3.30 am one night to attend to a man who had flatulence for the past 3 weeks! The patients have little reliance on common sense and are fearful of every fever. The doctors too are fearful of litigation and practise defensively. David's summation of the Irish system is "fearful, wasteful and defensive". Although 10% of David's income goes towards a PRSI tax, we cannot use the health services. A dental visit, which David recently had to resort to, made a significant dent in the Nye coffers - so we have an added incentive to stay as healthy as possible.
While Ireland is promoted as a classless society, there is a distinction between upper and lower classes. As a generalisation, the upper classes are educated, slim and often display the features of classic Irish beauty, invariably with easily understandable accents. The majority of people we have had dealings with [i.e. the rest, or the other class] are usually overweight, generally with coarse features, on social benefits, pregnant, mumble with a heavy accent that is often unintelligible, and rely on drinking for pleasure. Both classes may have material wealth, which means that this distinction is not evident by looking at people's cars or houses.
One particular social observation, which tends to make our blood boil, is listening to those on benefits complain about their perceived raw deal. All we can think of is how hard our fellow African people have it, and how little they are expected to survive on - and how relative the Irish perceptions are. There is a really avaricious, materialistic mentality here among the younger generations, who have an attitude of entitlement, which is considered by older Irish folk as one of the dubious legacies of the Celtic Tiger boom years. It's been interesting to read that many of the Eastern European immigrants, who have been working here for a long time, are going back to their home countries because it's no longer economically viable to stay in Ireland. These critical observations aside, we have been struck by what a caring society this also is. The Irish do a great deal to help the unfortunate, like the Pakistan flood victims [lots of radio and TV appeals for citizens to send money to aid these poor folk], and others in need. It appears though that this altruism is generally forthcoming from the people, not the government, which is often the reality of grass-roots aid. So fair play to the Irish [wo]man in the street for their compassionate hearts.
While working in Waterford for a week, we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at la Boheme restaurant, where we had a very good meal, which was a real treat.
11.04.2010 - 28.04.2010
David had a one day locum in the village of Borrisolane, between Thurles and Nenagh. So back on the road again, but it was nice to break the journey between NCW and Wexford, and we stayed in a B&B on a farm overlooking the Devil’s Bit.
The lower, more informal gardens are resplendent with spring blooms of magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias. All this enchantment had Sandi hopping about like a mad March hare, capturing as many floral memories as possible.
The upper garden is a 17th century walled garden, surrounded by defensive walls.
Our last locum was in a country practice at Fethard-on-Sea, on the Hook peninsula in Co Wexford. The practice was very modern and well organised, albeit quite isolated geographically. We were accommodated in a cute holiday cottage with full amenities. A wonderful respite for stretching out, hot baths, and relaxed cooking.
The hook Peninsula is very rural, with cultivated fields and cattle farms all the way down to the Hook Light-house, built in the 13th century, which makes it the second oldest working light-house in the world.
We took an afternoon to explore the JF Kennedy Arboretum located near the original Kennedy homestead. The extensive grounds are magnificent with about 4500 species of trees planted in groups. Unfortunately Sandi sprained her ankle near the beginning, so dispatched David back to the van to fetch the Helichrysum oil. Within minutes of applying a few drops the swelling and pain subsided, so much so that Sandi managed to hobble around a fairly extensive area of the park and still appreciate its beauty. The wonders of Nature - aromatic medicine and surprisingly fragrant magnolias - what more could we wish for!
The weekend was again spent in NCW, but we discovered we could cut out quite a long stretch, via New Ross, by taking the ferry over Waterford harbour. It was expensive at €16 return, but shortened our trip by 50km each way, which at this stage we gladly paid, as the countless hours in the van, on the pot-holed roads, have long ago lost their rustic allure. We missed a turn on the way, so ended up barrelling along very narrow twisting country lanes for quite a distance [enough to put Sandi's back into spasm again!] We had planned to explore the Ring of Kerry and West Cork for 2 days before catching our ferry back to the UK, but plans changed as David had agreed at the last minute to go back to the same practice in Fethard-on-Sea for a day's locum on the day before we leave. So we took a slow drive back, visiting Killarney, driving over Moll's Gap to Kenmare and then onto the main Cork road.
Being back in Ireland after a year, the same curiosities still amaze us.
Firstly the houses - which are either small, old and quaint, or large, opulent and brash. The small, old cottages may be linked together in terraces in the towns, or stand alone in the country. Mostly they are the shape of Monopoly houses. Inside they are very modest, with tiny rooms and low ceilings, with people spending most of the time in the kitchen with a smoky, open fire.
We wonder whether the fondness for stone in the frontage of most houses represents an attempt to cherish the Irish heritage of building houses in local granite. There may be just a trim of stone around the door, or corner flagstones, or a full frontage of stone. A few houses are built entirely of stone and would then have a brick trim around the windows and doors.
The other thing that never ceases to amaze us, is the state of the roads everywhere. Mostly the roads are narrow and winding, with little or no shoulder to lean into when heavy trucks approach [which is frequent!]. Last week David had to scoot so far to the left, to avoid a truck passing in the opposite direction, that the side mirror was whacked, which was quite scary for Sandi, as she sits on that side.
It certainly is a danger to pedestrians and walkers, as side-walks are rare. It is sad to see elderly people trying to get out for some exercise along the roads, being forced into hedgerows or ditches by passing cars.
Potholes are everywhere and difficult to see and avoid, especially if filled with water. Some of the roads have been repeatedly patched or thinly resurfaced, only to fall to pieces again during the recent long spell of icy weather. All quite treacherous in fact, and quite reminiscent of some of the crazy Transkei roads at home.
Unlike the British and the French "services" where one can stop to refresh, eat and use the loo, there is nothing in Ireland along the major routes. We had to develop "camel bladders", use hedgerows or the bucket in the van, as toilets are very hard to find! The same applies to shops and shopping centres, so unless one is prepared to stop for food or drink, which is expensive, it's "knyp, knyp, nip, nip" until reaching home turf.
Dotted around the country, along the sides of the roads, are some eclectic steel sculptures such as these.
Some of the Irish expressions never fail to amuse: “now” is used for everything, “I am busy in the minute”, “Bye-bye—bye—bye—bye”, “slippy roads”, “scaldy urine”, and “will” instead of “shall”. "After" is a word often thrown in to sentences e.g. "I'm after getting a sore throat" or "I'm after going up the hill now". Some more delicious Irish names, which tickle: Eabha [pron Ava], Meadhbh [pron Maeve], Tadhg [pron Tige(r)] and Sadhbh [pron Syve].
“Kil” is the Celtic word for church, but in Co Clare alone we counted 18 out of about 30 villages beginning with Kil-. Kilrush, Kilkee, Kilmurry, Kilfearagh, Kilbaha, Killimer, Kilmihil, Kilmaley, Killadysert, Kilmutty, Kilshany, Kilnamana, Kilkichen, Kilbeacanly, Kilartan, Kilcolgan, Kilnefora and Killaloe. In Co Kildare and Co Waterford, one finds the mother-of-all: a town called Kill.
29.03.2010 - 11.04.2010
After finishing the Caredoc shift at 6pm in Cashel we had a long 4 hour drive up to Monaghan Town, near to the Northern Ireland border, where we had a 2-week stint in a GP practice. We were accommodated in an apartment [with a kitchen - yippee] above the surgery in the centre of town, with a lake and a supermarket right next to us. Great to be able to put down some roots again for a while, as B&Bs are not our preferred accommodation.
Politics and the state of the economy are the favourite topics of conversation in Ireland [oh yes, and the weather]. Everyone is keen to give you their opinion of how the government, through its incompetence, and the banks, through their greed, have run the once prosperous country into the ground. David spends many hours with the Doctor-on-Call drivers, whizzing along country lanes to minister to patients “in distress”.
The recession is biting hard and the rate of unemployment has never been higher. Those who do still have jobs are having to adjust to cuts in salaries. The cost of living here is the highest we have encountered in Europe. In France we usually bought wines for about €2 a bottle; here one cannot find plonk for anything under €5 or €6 a bottle. Hospitals are downgrading many of their facilities to save money. Everyone seems to be struggling, which has not happened in the past 30 years.
Headshops are very much in the national news.
Protests are taking place in London today calling for the Pope to do the decent thing and resign. Everyone is disgusted by the enforced oaths of secrecy and cover-ups in the catholic Church, now coming to light. People who were sexually abused by priests 20-30 years ago, are now speaking out and demanding justice. Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Church in Ireland and himself involved in enforcing oaths of secrecy in the 1970s, is refusing to resign. Apparently a secret Papal decree was issued in Latin in 1922 to all Cardinals, instructing them to keep all cases of sexual abuse contained within the Church.
The Pope has apologised to victims in Ireland, but the apology only came after public pressure, and laid the blame at the door of the Irish bishops. Now even the Pope himself has been implicated in cover-ups. We are surprised to learn that Good Friday is not a public holiday in Ireland, since 5 years ago! What is the Catholic Church coming to? A big national football match is scheduled for Friday and now the pubs have won a court case to serve liquor during the screening of the game.
07.03.2010 - 28.03.2010
After leaving Spanish Point for the last time we drove up north to the old town of Kells, famous for the Book of Kells, which is a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the Gospels. The original has been housed in Trinity College, Dublin, for hundreds of years, so we tried to view a copy while in Kells. It was advertised as being on display at the local Council offices, but when we asked where it was we were informed it was no longer there, but there was a copy in the church. So off we went again, but alas, the church was locked. No Book of Kells viewing for us this time!
On the way down to Newcastle West, we overnighted in the Caredoc facility at Nenagh, as David had a red-eye shift. We stopped briefly in the quaint village of Adare on the road to Newcastle West. Sandi found a stick-on glittery green shamrock to decorate the van window, in honour of St Patrick's Day.
Newcastle West is a small, unremarkable village south of Limerick. We stayed in the local hotel which was crummy. One of the home visits during the night was to a known rapist in the community, living in comfort on Social Security benefits in a Council house. Although he is now beyond much physical exertion, the driver regaled David en route with many tales of his unsavoury antics over many years in the community. Female doctors are not allowed to visit this chap without a male chaperone - even now! On Sunday the village held its Paddy’s Day parade, which consisted largely of tractors, lorries and local farm implements, as well as the ambulance and fire engine.
Then it was down to Co Cork, where David had two red-eye shifts at Midleton. Sandi secured accommodation at the old Commodore Hotel on the seafront in nearby Cobh, which proved to be a real treat. Cobh [pronounced Cove] has a long maritime history, as it overlooks one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
We arrived just after dark and decided to take an exploratory walk to enjoy the perfectly windless evening and lights twinkling on the bay. Quite enchanting!
When Queen Victoria visited, the name was changed from Cove to Queenstown, but with Irish independence it became Cobh. The architecture is in the style of English coastal towns, such as Brighton, with a bandstand and seafront promenade. Sandi immediately felt drawn to the town, and said she could live here, since the atmosphere and pretty curved terraces reminded her of Bath.
On St Patrick’s Day we signed up for a Titanic walking tour of the town. Our witty guide, Pat, regaled us with many historical insights [and personal opinions], as the three of us walked around the town in the icy wind.
The next 3 days were spent working in Wexford. The hotel deal included a 3-course dinner, which was very good, and free use of the gym, sauna and pool. David insisted on giving Sandi a Paddy's Day treat and bought a special-offer voucher for a back, head and foot massage. The back massage was reasonable, but she felt that her students gave a better hand and foot massage after their first day at aroma school!
We visited the Irish National Heritage Park, which was supposed to be an award-winning display of life in Ireland from 9000 years ago up till the Middle Ages. It was boggy and wet and thoroughly underwhelming, and the camera battery died halfway through our walk around the park.
11.02.2010 - 07.03.2010
We went up to Miltown Malbay near Spanish Point on the west coast of County Clare, where David was booked to do several ‘red-eye’ shifts [midnight to 9am].
Fortunately, the doctor usually doing these shifts is a SA doctor who lives here with his wife, and they have gone to SA for a holiday. They kindly let us use their house, which is fantastic for us to have a 'home' for a while. We can cook and have our own space, which is so important to us after constantly being in somebody else's space. It also saves us loads of money in accommodation and meals. This became our base for three weeks, from where we made several trips across country to work in GP practices, returning each time to MM.
The first few nights were very quiet so David got several hours of sleep, while getting paid!
We are lucky to be 500m from the most beautiful beach at Spanish Point.
David has just finished a week in a GP practice on the Curragh near Kildare, which was very different to the first GP job. Here were lots more social problems among the patients; drugs and alcohol and teenage pregnancies, as it is an army camp community. The Curragh is a vast expanse of grassland extending over 5000 acres, which is rich in limestone. This is the reason that the area is renowned for breeding fine race-horses, as the limestone gives them strong bones. The nearby race-tracks of Curragh and Punchestown are very popular with the Irish.
Sandi had found us a good deal at the Carlton Abbey hotel in Athy [rhymes with fly, and Nye] about a 30 minute drive away.
Back in the house in Spanish Point, life is settling into a routine. It is beginning to feel like home. David works [or sleeps] at the ShannonDoc centre up the road at night, while Sandi braves the house alone, and we spend the daytime leisurely watching TV, going for walks if the weather is not too bad, corresponding, reading and cooking. The weather is freezing most days, and David has to scrape the ice off the windscreen of the van most mornings. Really can't wait to have a bit of proper sun in May, rather than this weak Irish excuse for a sun!
David took on a one-day locum for a GP in Enniscorthy, which entailed 4 hours driving in heavy rain and sleet to get there, and another 4 hours the next evening to get back. During a walkabout at lunch-time, he visited the cathedral, which was decorated inside with stencilled art; unusual and rather beautiful.
After a couple more red-eye shifts in Miltown Malbay, we travelled across to Borris, Co Kildare, for 2 days in a GP practice. Borris is a pretty, rural village in the foothills of Mt Leinster, and we had a lovely view from our B&B over the valley, village and viaduct. The viaduct was built 150 years ago to carry logs by train down to Wexford, and apparently one of the longest in Europe.
After another 2 days in a practice in New Ross, it was back to MM yet again [3 1/2 hours drive]. We took a drive up the coast to the nearby holiday resort of Lahinch, where there were dozens of surfers in the water.
Mr Stubby was also starting to sprout random spots of rust, so David decided this was a good time to do some patching up. It proved to be more tricky than he anticipated, because even on the sunniest day there was always a sea breeze, which blew the masking paper and paint all over the place! It was only by using the golf umbrella as a wind-barrier and waiting for brief lulls in the breeze, that the job got finished [certainly far from a professional-looking outcome!] Once again we had difficulty starting the van, but this time even a jump start did not help. We called the RAC, who sent a mechanic from Kilfenora, 20km away, who declared our battery was just not powerful enough for starting the van, when conditions were suboptimal. This made a lot of sense, as we often had starting problems when it was very cold or it had been standing for a few days. So after 3 hours of reshaping the battery bracket, and 170 euro later, we had a new, larger and more powerful battery. The end to our starting problems at last!
So bye for now, from the nomadic Nyes, as we continue on our freezing midlife-madness-meanderings!
01.02.2010 - 11.02.2010
It was strangely familiar being back in Ireland again - 1 year on. We have nearly run out of money and need to work for the next 3 months to replenish the coffers. Many months after posting the blogs on our three months in Ireland last year, we eventually loaded the photos to illustrate them. You may wish to take this opportunity to have a look at some of those photos. The blogs about St Patrick's Day, In the sticks in Co Galway and Northern Ireland are particularly interesting. [For the dummies: click on Table of Contents and select a blog to view - the Irish ones are near the bottom.]
We started with a week at a very smart, modern, well-run practice in Dublin. We had to take a cut in pay as they refused to pay for accommodation, which they are supposed to, but as it was all arranged at the very last minute it was that or no job for the 1st week. So it was better than nothing.
Sandi had found us a good deal at the swanky Burlington Hotel, which was a 10 minute walk [mostly in the rain] to work for David. She has been doing an amazing job of finding us the best deals for accommodation, spending hours and hours on line. Accommodation has become even more expensive since we were last here, and hotel deals can be found on-line which are cheaper than B&Bs. Generally B&Bs are €40 pp [= €80 per night for both of us!], whereas we have now had two fancy 3-4 star hotels for €50-60 per room [without breakfast though]. The rooms are luxurious and spacious, and we smuggle our cup-a-soups, muesli, wine and take-aways into the rooms! When washing up the dishes, we make sure we leave no grease around the basin or on the towels! Another good 'hotel meal' we have found is smoked salmon [always on special at Lidl, a cheap supermarket], i.e. anything which doesn't need cooking can work in a hotel room!
Then we travelled down to Cashel where David had a few night shifts with CareDoc from 6pm to 9am. Sandi had found us a B&B close by.
There we were introduced to the fictional world of Peter Tremayne, who writes murder mysteries set in the 7th century in this part of Ireland. The main character is Sister Fidelma, who is a young, attractive and well-educated, Celtic Christian, who is trained as a dálaigh, or advocate, in ancient Brehan law, and who has a natural talent for solving crimes. The books also provide an absorbing perspective into a relatively unknown time in history, where the living conditions are primitive but the morals are admirable, and women have a highly respected and equal place in society. We were surprised to discover that there are websites, a large world-wide following, and an annual Sister Fidelma festival in Cashel.
The Rock of Cashel is an ancient home of kings and bishops, which we visited last year.
Nearby is Hore Abbey, which was captured from the Benedictine order by the Cisticercian monks in the 13th century, and now lies in ruins.
Sadly the daffodils are not yet in bloom, as they were this time last year, due to the very inclement winter weather since October 09 - but hopefully they'll be blossoming soon, so that we can get lost in their abundance and beauty once again.
02.05.2009 - 04.05.2009
Sandi procured another good deal at the Ramada Inn on Cork road, Waterford, where we got the 3rd day free. David had 2 evening shifts and an all day shift at the Waterford Caredoc, before we finally left Ireland . We visited Waterford Crystal again, hoping to take a tour of the factory this time, but although the strike was over, the kiln has been turned off and the factory closed. Some European company has bought the brand and will probably transfer the manufacturing side to Eastern Europe. It is hoped that a local company will start up the factory again next year just to make trophies. There is such a pervasive sense of sadness in the Visitor centre. The showroom is full of the last genuine crystal to go on sale. They will probably soon become collector's items, but still too expensive to buy! The crystal chandeliers were spectacular, and Sandi says she has finally found the one she has been looking for, to put in her loo at home!
On Sunday we had good weather, so we meandered over to Dungarvan to see the French Market; but it was dismally disappointing. The coastal road back via Bunmahon and Tramore was very scenic: cliffs, sandy beaches and gorse-covered hills.
We had an excellent roast beef lunch for €9 in Tramore, which is very much a holiday town with Big Wheel, gaming arcades and candyfloss. The town has a lovely long sandy beach, behind which extends an expansive lagoon, which completely fills and empties with the tides. We could not resist taking photos of the surfers riding the waves which were the height of a brick!
On the headlands on either side of the bay are 2 and 3 tall solid columns, apparently to guide the ships of olde into the next bay where the harbour was situated at the mouth of the Suir river.