Monday, February 28, 2011

Wedding of Liz and Cathal

Paddy, Claire, Andrew and I drove out from Greystones to the countryside of Southwest Ireland, to out near Tinahely. Here, after several uncertain turns, we found the majestic Coolattin House, which was the setting for the wedding ceremony for Liz and Cathal. Set on the lush green pastures on the edge of the golf course, this old homestead was gorgeous inside. We gathered with the rest of the arriving Greystones girls, for tea to warm up.

As the room filled, we were soon ushered into the front room, and seated for the service. Some nervous moments, as Liz kept us all waiting with some difficulties with directions getting there herself. But as we could see the car arrive from the huge windows, the anticipation for this big day was electric in the room.

The civil service itself was simple and lovely, which included the awe of Steve's reading, which had evolved into an ode to love. There were moments of laughter, and such joy in the room. Such a lovely and fitting moment, to see Liz and Cathal, become husband and wife.

After some post-ceremony mingling, I went with the Greystones crew to Coolattin Lodge just down the lane, to check out our lodgings for the next 2 nights. The converted stables, the 3 houses our group were staying were so beautiful, and decorated as if we had just stepped into a Laura Ashley catalogue. Amazing.

Getting along to the next village, and to Ballybeg House, the wedding guests filled this beautiful house, decked out in colonial style furnishings, for pre-dinner drinks. Another gorgeous venue for this weekend.

As darkness fell, we crossed the driveway to the marquee, to the wedding party. Here we were seated, and marked the arrival of the newly married Liz and Cathal. Both started the evening with a speech each, and by the end of these there was not a dry eye in the room. Such special moments of thanks, meeting stories, thank yous, and Cathal's quote from the "amazing Dido". Always hilarious.

The meal was lovely, before the band kicked off, lead by Ruth on vocals. Such a talent! Just another special element to the day, and it was such a treat seeing her have the privilege of leading the first dance of Liz and Cathal, being Florence and the Machine's You've Got The Love.

A great party, a special day and night. But with an Irish wedding it doesn't stop there! The next night, back at the Ballybeg House was the second party to celebrate. Karaoke was set up in the inside veranda room, and there was even a chipper van employed to fed the revellers. The attention to detail for this special weekend, and the joy at being present for this special day for Liz and Cathal, was totally worth the flights to and from the other side of the world.

Congratulations, Liz and Cathal!

Double Dublin

Back into Dublin the next day after Belfast, Liz had a few more wedding errands to complete before the big day, and I took the chance to go into town for some shopping and another look at the main city of Ireland.

When we got in from Wicklow, we had a great lunch stop to start the day at Green 19, before wandering into the shopping streets. Liz and I then met with her friend Kerry, and we found a comfy table at the homely feeling Grogan's. Here Steve also met with us after work, and Andrew happened to be in the pub, and joined us for beers and Bulmers.

Now Steve had been given a reading for the wedding, and after first questioning a couple of the words, and then phrases, started creating a new masterpiece. And it turns out that on this day in the pub, he had it there in his coat pocket. He'd had it with him all day at work, and frankly, I don't think he had slept ruminating over it for days. What a funny lad!

The next day, it just happened that Jonesy was in Dublin for work, and so I managed to coordinate to catch up with him. A bus into town, I met him for a pint at Paddy Cullens, near the rugby venue - where else! We got to catch up about the end of the night back in Beijing, and all of the bits of life since. Was great to see him!

Getting back to Greystones on the train, I finally caught up with Claire, as I was staying at Claire and Paddy's new home that night. Kate picked Claire and I up, and we popped over to Katherine's to have a few drinks with Liz, as she prepared for her big day the next day. Many of the girls called in for a pre-wedding drink, as the excitement of the following day built.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


On the Tuesday of my week in Ireland, I decided that I would pop up to Northern Ireland to see Belfast as a day trip. I caught the train early from Wicklow, with the ticket seller insisting that I wait till Dublin to buy the onward portion, to save some euro. Two hours from Dublin, I arrived in Belfast's main train station, to find myself in the UK, with road signs in miles, and using Pound again.

A rainy day, as I walked around the grand City Hall building I was accosted by a tout selling tickets for the City Sightseeing Hop On-Hop Off tourist bus, and given the weather, jumped at it as the price fell in negotiations.

Taking the small group on the bus past the leaning Albert Memorial Clock, we then went along the riverfront, to the Titanic Quarter, having the dock where she launched pointed out. The bus then went out to the grounds of Stormont Estate, which was quite impressive.

Back through the city centre, the bus then took us out to the North Western areas of town, where 'The Troubles' occured, and an undercurrent still exists between Protestant and Catholic sides. This gave me a good overview of what all this is about, and pointed out many key spots, including many of the murals and the wall between the Shankill and Falls areas.

After getting off the bus, I walked along to one of the sights they had pointed out, being The Cathedral Church of Saint Anne. This captured my attention because of the large steel spire which seemed to be skewered into the roof, and through to where the alter would be. Walking in I took in the military reverence of the much of the chapel, including a stained glass window outlining the fourth stanza of the Ode to Remembrance. I read about the Spire of Hope, placed into the roof of this church dedicated to 'Nine 11' and the messages of hope and peace in relation to much of the world's conflicts.

Seeking a much more personalised, and on the ground look at the areas of 'The Troubles', I put a call in to the Black Taxi Tours, which I had had a recommendation about, and had found in one of the guide books I had picked up. My your picked me up from where I was, in his black cab, and took me back to the murals and trouble areas, but with a much more individualised and personal tour, explaination, and the chance to ask questions. This was really worthwhile, from a local's perspective and experience, and a more intimate look at the art around the areas, the monuments and memorials to different clashes and protests, and the significance of these sentiments today.

Wicklow and Dublin

Cathal was at the new terminal at Dublin airport to pick me up when I landed, and take me out to Liz and his new house in Wicklow. Once Liz was home, we made plans for the night, and Peter come over before we walked to the local, for many pints of Guinness. Fighting fatigue, I managed to push through, and we actually had a large night. A tiny dance on our way out, we finished the night at the chipper!

Waking surprisingly ok the next morning, the 3 of us went out to Devil's Glen, to meet the girls for Kate's birthday. A walk up to the waterfall was the chosen activity, and we met up with Kate, Niamh and Kate, and we made our way through the fresh country air.

Back into Greystones, we then went to Sandra's for afternoon tea, and my first chance to catch up with the girls. A pregnant Sandra, who had prepared all the treats of the afternoon with a toddler running around under her feet, along with Anna and her 2 children, and also a pregnant Ruth, showed me that this little group is really growing up. Also here was Rowena, and Ailbhe, and Andy and Alex. Was great to see this crew again, after something like 4 years.

Going into town the next day for some wedding errands, and being Valentine's Day, Liz and I stopped into the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church to light a candle to St Valentine, whose remains are said to be in this chapel.

A pretty non-descript church from the outside, the church was really lovely and warm inside. There were many people milling around the alter to St V, as we read that he was executed for not renouncing his faith - by being beaten with sticks and then beheaded! Melissa had actually sent me an article about it, and it turns out that Liz had never been inside before, even though she went to college nearby.

A stop for a Bento Box for lunch at Uykio, we then wandered the streets of Dublin, crossed the river, braving the chilly wind. This gave me the feeling that I was actually in Ireland, seeing the main cityscape of Dublin.

With the day's tasks complete, we walked back towards the car and stopped for an Irish Coffee at the Library Bar in the Central Hotel. Such a cute pub! Before driving back to Wicklow, we stopped to see Laura and Cian, in their cute apartment, talking all things study, Social Work, and the wedding in just a few days.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Etihad Me At Hello

I have just made it to the Transit area - ahh, mosaic dome - in Abu Dhabi International Airport for one of the best flights I have experienced. After all these years of travel, and countless flights and randomised airlines...Etihad Airways just may have won my heart!

I drove down to the airport with Mum, and went through the Customs doors. I am aware I am a little bit of a travel snob, just by having a chuckle at the fact that someone has left their passport at the first security check of their journey - they are in real trouble if that's their beginning.

I jab my belly with a blood thinning shot of clexane, and then board through Gate 9, to find the comfiest airplane seat I have ever sat in. And yes, I have flown Business before, nothing special. This one, however, in regular economy last night, is cushioned, roomy (unbelievable but true), and despite my skepticism about it's write up as an ergonomically enhanced chair, I am sold. It doesn't just recline, it actually does cradle as the website claims, back eases back and the pan moves forward. Plus adjustable lumbar support. I am blown away, and after 14 hours of that, I am not as stiff as I usually feel after such a flight. Awesome.

I spent the first two hours with James Franco in the amazing 127 Hours. After seeing the adventurer during the week on The 7pm Project, I was even more intrigued to see the movie. The cinematography, the play out of emotions and then final dilemma to save his own life, this movie was enthralling. Maybe a little modified for the flight viewing, it wasn't as gory as I had been expected, but is certainly not for the faint-hearted! Great performance, and amazing story.

A walk, more liquid intake, to ward that elevated DVT risk away, we were fed. I almost squealed with delight at the real cutlery provided with the meal. That doesn't happen much any more!

I get some sleep. Me! Sleep, on a flight! Almost unheard of. But again, comfortable setting! The seat allocation is that all single travellers have a couple of seats to themselves, which also help. This is a thinking airline! Sleep between Jakarta and Colombo, according to the maps.

Lights back on in the cabin, but low and inoffensive, I then watch The Social Network. I will admit, I had not been keen until it was endorsed by the Golden Globes - and I actually really enjoyed it. A depiction of the rise and rise of Zuckerman, but also the geeky, sad friendlessness of the man who put together a site that helps the world's friends stay connected. Fascinating.

Of course, I would love Etihad to read this and send me a free flight, but seriously, I am just saying - I think I have finally found a carrier I may look out for more than normal.

I mean, even the loo on the plane is done up like a hotel bathroom if you go in at the right time, with the folded ends of the toilet paper - and the outer edge ones have a window.

Anyway, 2 thirds of my flights done, I am not beside myself at the prospect of the rest of the journey.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Zoo Diesel

On Saturday, I drove down to Melbourne to meet Jenny, Camilla and Johan, just in time for a lift to the Melbourne Zoo. Off to the Twilight Session, we picked up the returned Annie, and then met Leanne on the grass in front of the stage.

First up for the evening, as we consumed wine and our picnic and keeping a watchful eye on the rain clouds above, were Ryan Meeking. A four piece band who, whilst not capturing the party I was with, seemed to have many in the crowd impressed. An unfortunate story about hitting a roo on a recent roadtrip went down like a lead balloon, in an environment where animal conservation message were emblazoned at every turn, nonetheless, they managed to see many the EP at the end of their entertaining set.

The act for the night for us, was Diesel - Johnny Diesel, no Injectors, no hair, but still all the stage presence and talent he is known for. Playing many old favourites like Come To Me, Please Send Me Somebody To Love, Cry In Shame, and One More Time, he showed that he still has the charm, stage presence and voice he has always had. People up dancing, the crowd were loving him.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sufjan Stevens

On Monday night Katie and I drove down to Melbourne after work, for the magical musical experience that is Sufjan Stevens. Finding our awesome seats in the State Theatre at the Arts Centre, on the balcony edge of Circle just in time for the support.

Tim Hart engaged the crowd with his solo set, standing in the centre of the full stage of instruments for the main act, with stories and folk songs. His banter, and appreciation of the listening music lovers in front of him was endearing. I have since read he is the drummer of much loved Boy And Bear. What a talent.

Opening with Seven Swans, Sufjan arrived on stage in a black skin suit, covered with fluro pieces. As was his guitar, and the piano beside him. Two drummers, two backing dancers and vocalists, two horns, and a host of other percussionists on stage with him, Sufjan still stole the show as he introduced himself to the audience.

Most of the show was from the newer release The Age of Adz, with Heirloom thrown in from the surprise EP also released last year. The level of detail in the stage sounds, right down to the chimes, was incredible. The lighting show was then another layer on top, with a screen that would come down in front of the stage for a couple of numbers, to enhance the effects.

Sufjan chatted at intervals, with a monologue about his obsession with space and alien life, thus explaining the visuals we were seeing. He told us of Royal Robertson, the artist of much of the images, who was also obsessed with these ideas, perhaps within his mental illness. Sufjan then played Get Real Get Right.

Sufjan apologised for the length of some of his most recent tracks, explaining of late he has tired of starting with lyrics, and has been playing with sounds. He says that he has been letting the sounds take over, and this creates the tracks. The epic 25 minute Impossible Soul, he explains, is really several songs within one. And it was amazing! The second part featuring Sufjan in front of a diamond cut out, and several crazy hats on.

The third and most vibrant part of the song had the crowd enthralled, and the bottom section up dancing, as coloured balloons were released down from the roof. Such an enlifting experience, being in this theatre for this, live.

After the climax of the end of the set, and a longish break, Sufjan returned for the encore, which comprised of tracks from Illinois. Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois on piano, and then the beautiful John Wayne Gacy, Jr.. The night rounded off with the lively Chicago, with the bottom tier again up on their feet and dancing.

A feeling of bemusement at the musical wonder we had just seen, the crowd streamed out into the night, blown away by the experience of enchanting, self-indugent, mythical folk songs, with the overlay of electro magic. One of the most uplifting gig I have been too, such a pleasure!
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