When in Dublin…

…do as the Dubliners do, which in our case meant enjoy the pubs! While the Irish generally bemoan their reputation as drinkers, the fact is they have a pub culture that serves them well both as social gathering spots and places to find really “lovely” brews. No doubt much of Ireland’s great literature first flowed from pen to paper in many of these establishments. If I spent more time over there, I’d do a great deal of writing in the cozy comfort of these places. Not sure it would do my liver much good, but most likely my muse would be happy.

Although I never personally liked Guinness before, on this trip I discovered this oversight was due to only tasting Guinness here in the states. Guinness pints poured in Dublin pubs bear little resemblance to what American bars attempt to pass as Guinness. Ostriches love GuinnessThis grave dilemma is not entirely our fault, since Guinness is brewed in Dublin and thus far fresher, and worshiped fanatically via attention to details that make all the difference in the taste. On our return to the states we tried three different places in Keene to see if the black, velvet-headed wonders available locally compared favorably to those we enjoyed in Ireland. Sadly, the American version is weaker, lacks body, and in most cases, has an unsettling metallic taste. In Dublin, a very active Guinness Quality Team, who drives about in snappy black vans (see below), ensures clean keg pipes while no doubt flogging publicans who pour the black improperly. When the love of the brew approaches (nay, rivals) religious fervor, no detail is too small, apparently.

Quality Team

Had a delightful evening one Saturday night in Dublin’s Market Bar visiting with Irish bloggers our host had assembled. While the conversation ranged topically all over the map, one interesting side discussion evolved around the Irish pub culture compared to American bars, clubs, and beer joints. Pub culture seems intrinsic in Irish life, not only evidenced from how many there are, but in how they serve as gathering places on the way to other evening delights (as well as pure destinations). One way or another, a typical Dubliner’s day includes a Pub somehow, somewhere.

dringk11.jpgWe saw plaques festooned with James Joyce’s likeness on quite a few pubs (click to see a larger image to read the text), and laughed at the irony of “A good puzzle would be to cross Ireland without passing a pub.” Fact is, it’s hard to walk down even a Dublin street without seeing at least one pub, and likely two or three in close proximity to each other. I’m not sure what constitutes an “authentic Irish pub” other than being in Ireland and serving Guinness, but some criteria exists since these plaques weren’t bestowed to every pub we passed, just a lot of ’em.

Mind the cliffAn interesting part of traveling into another culture is seeing how they use graphics and signage to inform locals of dangers or provide useful information. Mind the harborSince drinking seems to be a national pastime in Ireland, it’s no wonder some of their signage seems to be intended for those citizens who might have a “wee too much” of their beloved Guinness or whiskey. Mind the stepAlthough non-drinkers certainly can trip, walk off a cliff, or drive into the harbor, it seems more likely the happy pubber needs this extra level of protection from these accidental activities.

And as the rest of the pictures show, we enjoyed the locally brewed Guinness whenever possible, and took advantage of the delightful pub food whenever possible: comfort food at its finest. Whether we enjoyed Irish stews, Shepard’s pies, or beef and Guinness pies, all tasted wonderful and sated our desire to “eat locally” whenever we could. Nothing is quite as depressing as visiting a place like Dublin and bumping into McDonald’s and the like, which I try to avoid like the plague (always prefer to taste local fare whenever possible). But the best part, to me, of pubs in Ireland is that they are now all smoke-free, which made for delightful visits without leaving smelling like an ash tray. Wish our bars here in America followed that same sane approach, although I’ve yet to visit one that had the ambiance and pull that enticed me to come in, sit down, enjoy a few pints of cold, properly poured, Guinness with hot comfort food, and maybe even pen a few pages of that one-day-a-great novel. Such delights are for the having in a good Irish pub.

Pub with Toucan

All empty

Galway pub

Another Galway pub

Dún Dúhathair

Dún Dúchathair

The circular stone inner rings of Dún Dúchathair, the Black Fort, on Inis Mor island in the Aran Islands in County Galway off the west coast of Ireland inspired this post. We explored the cliffs and sterile landscape around this ancient fort of unknown purpose. Experts aren’t sure whether Dún Dúchathair was ceremonial or defensive, but to us it was truly impressive. Backed by sheer cliffs to the North Sea on three sides, and a sharp, rocky approach on the fourth, an enemy would have to be incredibly determined to even attempt a siege of this position.

Most tourists to this rocky island of hardy Irish tend to visit Dún Aonghasa, the more popular (and more advertised) fort ruins on Inis Mor. As I had read ahead of our visit, the reward for the effort of the long, somewhat challenging walk to Dún Dúchathair over rocky terrain and through a landscape veined with more manmade rock pasture walls that we could count, is a decided lack of people exploring the site. This benefit held true, as there were only a handful of people there as we carefully climbed around the sharp and plentiful monotone rock. Sitting by the cliff’s edge and contemplating the fort in a silence that only comes with few people around, surrounded by the soft surf sounds, occassional sea bird call, and the gentle wind made the experience all the better.

Dún Dúchathair

Dún Dúchathair

The location is nothing short of stunning, but a bit daunting whenever we walked near the edge of the precipice surrounding this area. The final panorama picture below can be clicked for a larger version showing the expanse of the fort, taken with my back to the sheer drop to the cold sea below.

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Hindu Festival

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One of the pleasures of living near an ethnically diverse urban area is the occasional festival extolling and celebrating the “best of…” the celebrant’s ethnic or religious origins.

On Saturday a friend and I attended the Hindu Festival in Toledo. As a fan of Indian food, there wasn’t much arm-twisting involved to get me to go, even though the thought of being outside for another hot day wasn’t appealing. Although the festival wasn’t a large event, there was plenty to sample in food, and the usual tables laden with Indian jewelry, clothing, and fabrics.

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Although the above bounty looked scrumptuous, I opted for a masala dosa (below), a crepe/burrito thingie with potato-veggie filling. Add a bowl of lemon rice, and I was in Indian food heaven…all washed down with a mango lassi, of course.

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muddy.jpgThe Hindu Temple of Toledo hosts this annual Festival of India during August. Last year 2500 people attended, and Saturday it looked as though they were on track to meet or exceed that number. And although I passed on the offer, there were plenty of takers for the henna body painting. Although there wasn’t an elaborate sand painting display, a few areas near the temple had some quick-n-dirty attempts at adding a bit of color and splash.

One visitor made little sense in these surroundings: Muddy, the mascot of the beloved Toledo Mud Hens. I suppose it was a Toledo thing, but somehow he seemed quite out of place among the saris, gold bangles, and multi-armed deities. Still, the kids seemed to enjoy him and I got a thumbs-up as he saw my camera pointed his way.

tiger2.jpgWith a culture whose people enjoy wearing brilliantly colored clothing and dazzling jewels, people watching is an interesting way to pass time. There were plenty of attractive females who eluded my camera’s lens, not so much because I was shy in trying to take their picture or shy in asking them to pose, but when they’re 10 years old they tend not to stand still long enough to bless the camera’s lens! All the shots I got of these precocious kids in their brilliant blues, yellows, reds, oranges, greens, and purples were out of focus, unfortunately. I did, however, manage at least one in-focus shot of the dancers on stage during the show.

 

 

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Balloons Aren’t Just for Kids

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What do you do when car sales lag? Why, you create a menagerie with balloon creatures to draw attention. You start with not one, but THREE patriotic eagles, each conveying a heart-tugging message guaranteed to bring in flag-waving customers by the droves.

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And if that isn’t enough, you add one black menacing gorilla, one whimsical blue gorilla, and one very scary, but authentically green, godzilla dude. No matter what your preference, this card dealer isn’t blowing hot air when he says he wants your business.

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