Daytripping to Powerscourt

For all the house guests we’ve had in our year abroad, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just recently gone to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was such an easy drive (or easy bus ride, if we have more than one adult traveling with us) from south Dublin. Definitely easier than bringing a pregnant friend to Howth and trying to hike in icy lashes of wind and rain along slippery trails. (That was in May.) So Emily, who loves gardens, this is for you.

The Powerscourt Estate is situated on a hill looking out at two distinctive Wicklow Mountain peaks, Little Sugarloaf and Great Sugarloaf

We had the great fortune of a spectacular fall day, one where Ireland was out from under its frequent gray shroud. In the warm full sun (no wind reaching down into our bones), the shimmering greens and autumn tones of changing leaves were unbelievably beautiful.

View from Triton Lake of the back of the house. You can see the winged horses at the top of the lake

Powerscourt was the site of a castle built around 1300, and by around 1600, the Wingfield family was given the property as part of Sir Richard Wingfield’s appointment as “Marshall of Ireland.” The Wingfield family hired Richard Cassels to construct a Palladian-style mansion around the original structure in 1731. Descendants of the family lived in the estate through the 1950s, although it was mostly a summer home. There was no central heating in the mansion for much of the house’s life, and anyone who visited us this past shivering “spring” would appreciate one family member’s recollection that:

…the old Celtic idea of hell was somewhere intensely cold. Powerscourt in winter would have qualified.

(This grand house was hotter than hell at least on one night, though, when in 1974, the eve of its public opening, a fire gutted the entire thing.)

The original gardens were laid out in the 1740s by Daniel Robinson. An aside in my Lonely Planet guide explains that Robinson supervised the construction laying down in a wheelbarrow with his bottle of sherry, in increasing states of inebriation.  Sláinte, Mr. Robinson. The grounds are magnificent in spite of, or perhaps because of, your intoxication!

The walled garden

We strolled for over an hour through the Italian gardens down to Triton Lake, the Japanese garden and through the hollows of the grotto, where it was noticeably colder. On one of the mossy stone archways, I zoomed in with the camera to find a dangling icicle!

On a soft slope in the gardens, there is a pet cemetery my in-laws had mentioned to me, since they know I am insanely in love with my cat. 

Touching epitaphs at the pet cemetery

It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.

We went on a Friday morning in mid-October, and it was fairly quiet. We glimpsed these beautiful horses through the trees on one of the paths. Seems like one of them had a foal (resting under what I assume is his mama in the left)

The toddling, stroller/buggy crowd would have a tough time negotiating some of the non-paved footpaths and fully exploring the grounds, like climbing to the top of Pepperpot Tower.

Pepperpot tower on the estate grounds with the peak of Great Sugarloaf in the distance.

 

A better bet for kids is the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall (the largest in Britain and Ireland), which is technically part of the estate but is not accessed through the main gates of the manor house drive.

This is Ireland. Driving in Wicklow.

On the grounds there, you’ll find a playground, picnic areas, and a sand pit with a short nature walk to the thundering fall. (“It’s very loud,” G said, as we approached the almost 400-foot sheet of water.) The moss and lichen-covered rocks were slick, but the boys loved scrambling over them and observing the shallow pools of water in the gaps.
All in all, this was one of my favorite daytrips from Dublin. Definitely worth visiting.
PS: Any more skilled bloggers have tips for reducing image file sizes without compromising quality? These images are exported as “medium” from iPhoto because the original file sizes are much too large and would slow down loading, but I notice quite a decline in the image sharpness.

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A quick hello from Rosslare (playing with our new camera)

The last few days of my mom’s visit we’re spending down in Wexford County at Kelly’s. It was beautiful this morning on the beach.

It’s hard to believe we are now into our second year in Ireland. The boys have grown so much.  I wish I had done a better job of maintaining the blog for them.

Hope you are all well and I hope to catch you up on these very busy weeks in which I visited the Irish President’s House, met my very distant Irish relatives, and went to Powerscourt.  No tonsillitis since August (all fingers crossed.)

toddler on the beach

Moving target

We’re having a big “Cars” moment in the house

Ice cream moustache

There’s a playground right on the beach

The Jersey Shore of Ireland

We have found the Jersey Shore of Ireland.

Just a 20-minute drive through bucolic green hills of sheep and cows, and distant, shimmering water, lies a fantastically tacky seafront with rides, arcades, souvenir shops, and tragic teens called Tramore. (On rainy days, it also has a warren of corrugated metal buildings known as an industrial park, where one can find such offerings as a paint-it-yourself pottery place, and two different indoor play areas for children staffed by surly teens.) I love it, in the way I loved Coney Island before most of it was razed to make way for luxury condos and hotels, and in the way that it reminds me of preteen summers in “The Sound.”

The morning started off well enough. This is the view from People’s Park in the village of Dunmore East

C in training to be a polar bear with his Gramby. The cold water did not deter him at all.

Based on the 12-year-olds with thigh-grazing hair, severely drawn-in black eyebrows and terra-cotta canned-tan skin that made them look almost forty, there is a reality show opportunity here. One appeared to be wearing a peach toga she clutched at nervously while on a ride. I wanted to scrub their faces clean. “You are my pale people,” I would say. And I would promise they would find someone to love them.

How can you not love such a defiantly summer place even when there is no real summer at all? (Yes, I should have brought my wool coat. In August. To our beach vacation. I am paying for my psychological block against doing this.)

We discovered Tramore out of desperation. Following a morning where we had already gone grocery shopping, eaten two breakfasts, gone to the playground, and the beach, we thought the boys would nap. The rain had started and so we went back to the place we are renting to put the boys down. Thus began the games: G hurled himself out of the pack ‘n play with the skill and body torquing of a pole vaulter. For an hour and a half, we tried threats and low voices. We had throbbing headaches from not enough sleep ourselves. Finally we took them into our bed, and when they still wouldn’t sleep, we put in a DVD. Fear not, American Academy of Pediatrics. TV is no opiate for my children.

We had to get out of the house.

C started having an epic meltdown out of sheer exhaustion. I think the trigger was putting his jeans on, or maybe his socks, but whatever it was we had to carry him, rigid and screaming, to the car. They were out within four minutes.

It is clear that when away from home, we need to be either: 1. Out walking in the stroller during their nap time or 2. In a car driving. It means there is no napping for us, no real downtime, until they finally crash at night. Of course it was too late now for them to have any real nap, so we needed a massive distraction.

Some may call Tramore a blight. For us the blinking, garish lights and din of shrieks and pumping bass arose from the Southeast shore of Ireland like a beacon of hope in a desert afternoon of parenting. The boys drove remote control trucks, rode fire engines, bounced in a trampoline.

G asked: “Are dere mans up there?” Somehow it rained 20 minutes away, but not here

Today we went back for the circus.

Barefoot in Dublin

Image

It’s a really good thing that we finally have some short-sleeved-weather days. Since moving to Ireland, C has seen people in shorts and T-shirts so infrequently that he thinks if arms or legs are showing people are “nay-nay” (naked).

My neighbors soak up the sun in the lane. One by one they had to pick up their chairs and move so we could get through with the car.

Sunday in Skerries

On Sunday we drove out to Skerries in North County Dublin to visit the monstrously talented children’s book author Niamh Sharkey and her family. It was a cold, bright day. Niamh had warned us to dress warmly; the playground was by the sea.

We must have maneuvered through five roundabouts to get there (the traffic circles in Europe take some getting used to), and at the last one, we wound through a railway underpass so narrow we had no idea it was two-way until nearly getting sideswiped by an oncoming car.

One of the two landmark windmills in Skerries

From Niamh’s kitchen, we could see a giant windmill.

We packed up all the kids (she has three adorable older kids who G & C keep talking about) and followed them to Ardgillan Castle.

Ardgillan Castle

Ardgillan is a gorgeous public park with plenty of (free!) parking. The location was spectacular. Standing at the top of a rolling meadow, we looked down to a line of yew trees flanking the castle. Beyond the castle (technically a country house from the late eighteenth century), lay the turquoise Irish Sea.  The grounds have rose gardens (not yet in bloom), picnic areas, and beautiful walking and cycling paths. They even host children’s parties (giving an entirely new dimension to the princess phenomenon among young children).  Looking north, the velvety Mourne Mountains looked painted by watercolor on the horizon.

You can see the Mourne Mountains to the right of the castle

On the almost 200 acres of grounds, there is a wonderland of a playground. With a pirate ship and a submarine, another perilous rope tree and a zip line, this playground was as state of the art as the one in Malahide, though a bit smaller. How will we ever go back to U.S. playgrounds? Why does North County have such amazing playgrounds?

G checks out the view from the playground

On the way back to Niamh’s house for lunch, we drove down hilly roads lined with ivy-covered trees and organic farms out to the road edging Skerries Harbour. Thickets of ragwort banked along the road, pops of yellow as sharp as the sun (the harsh light made for long shadows, despite the place being so photogenic, it was hard to capture in that light). White caps skimmed along the water. The tide was out so the boats in the harbor looked tossed there, keeling over like forgotten toys in the basin.

Who would have thought it'd be hailing a few hours later?

We didn’t explore the village of Skerries on foot but just did a quick drive through.  I would love to go back again (especially when it’s a bit warmer, to get ice cream from the tiny pier-side shack known as “Storm in a Teacup”) to see more and stroll along the beach.  Highly recommend this as a day trip from Dublin with young children. It was about 45 minutes north but it felt a world away.

We had so much fun that the boys missed their nap and we left her house at 4pm, just as our blue sky gave itself over to a dark cloud and hail started.

Niamh gave G his first ukulele lesson

The boys conked out by the time we were on the N1 and C wanted to sleep on Daddy for another hour or so when we got home.

 

Daytripping to Dun Laoghaire

When my mother and Sascha’s parents were here for the boys’ birthday, we drove down the coast to Dun Laoghaire in search of cupcake toppers at a place called Cakebox. There I found Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train sugar discs to dress up the cupcakes I made for their crèche (and if you are a very fancy baker, they have everything you might possibly need). Luckily, Blue Steel was still running well (as she is again, thanks to a new battery and new oil seals or some such) at that point. My mom gamely agreed to ride with half a butt cheek in the backseat, squished in between the boys.

Dun Laoghaire is an adorable, upscale seaside town about twenty minutes south of Dublin. Cakebox is on upper St. George’s St, and from there it was an easy walk to People’s Park.

People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

Here is where C made his first "wish" with my mom by tossing a penny in the fountain. Then he wanted the penny back

Since there was a playground, the boys were very happy.

On the gates of the park I noticed a sign saying the tea room was open. After the boys played for a bit, we walked up to check it out.  The Tea Room, run by a lovely man named Enda and his son, is open 7 days a week in the winter. I wish every park had something like this! The wind had seeped into our bones standing around the playground. We wrapped our hands around cups of hot chocolate (so yummy with steamed milk) and fresh coffee. Looking down the gentle slope of the park, we watched the boats out in the harbor.

The blue building behind G is the Tea Room

On Sundays, People’s Park hosts markets.  A nice side trip from Dublin with kids, accessible by DART.

The blog is going to be a bit screwy this week. Still trying to catch up on uploading galleries of some amazing visits with family, including a daytrip to Howth, touring the Hill of Tara and Newgrange, and hiking the Cliff Walk at Greystones–and I’m headed to the States for a quick week.

Windy

This morning the wind came pounding at the cottage, rattling windows and doors and trying to push in through any crack or breach. It was so loud that the boys woke up at 6am crying, from the noise, but thankfully fell back asleep. Mornings like this are when you remember you are on not-too-large island surrounded by the dark waters of the Northern Atlantic. And tonight I’m nursing some nasty approximation of Theraflu, and hoping I don’t catch Sascha’s cold.

I used to think people in New England were obsessed with the weather, what with the storm trackers and Doppler radars and week-long news cycles, but here it is a new kind of obsession. The weather changes constantly, so despite hearing from two different people that snow was expected as early as next month (! my out-of-date guidebooks said Dublin was more moderate on a whole, and that snow was rare), S pointed out that they could never really predict the weather for the day, so how could they know what it would be like in a month?

Friday was a beautiful, balmy afternoon and I became obsessed with seeing the sea before the season turned for good and artic winds bore down and snow piled up. I google-mapped the walk, which my mom worried was too ambitious because it was almost four when we were at Herbert Park, and the beach was a good 30 minutes or so beyond that. But Mr. Whippy the ice cream truck was parked outside, and I picked up cones for everyone and decided, fortified by ice cream, that we could do it. Worse came to worst, we would just have to see how far we got. Over the DART tracks we passed and negotiated a troubling crosswalk. Not only was there no blinking man to tell us when to cross, leaving us craning our necks to check stoplights and whiplash our heads about like two nutters, but the median was so tiny that with the double-stroller in front of her, my poor mom’s rear was sticking out a bit into oncoming traffic. (“I could lose a few inches anyway,” she shrugged.) We came upon a construction site, and turned the stroller for the boys just in time to see a truck lift a heavy load of dirt and drop it down into the road. If they could retain memories, I am sure this would rank among one of their top sights in Ireland! Then we were on a beautiful curving street that seemed to be unfurling itself toward the sea. There were beautiful Georgian-style brick homes all along this road. Suddenly, the air changed, turning briny and dropping several degrees as we heard the seagulls. We hit Sandymount Green, and then I knew where we were because we considered renting a house nearby. And though it was close to five and cold and windy on the beach, I was ecstatic to see The Strand, and as you saw in the previous post, the boys loved climbing the rocks and playing in the sand.

The next day, Saturday, we had planned to go to IKEA. But S has a story to tell you about that morning, which I think he would like to do as a guest post, so for now I’ll just say that it drained any of us of the mental and physical stamina one needs to even consider going to the twee Swedish-happy-but-made-in-China warehouse of our lives. I’ll also say at times that C behaves somewhat like the chick from The Exorcist, with his arms splayed out, head dropped back, and screaming. Later that evening, when all is quiet in the house, my mom ushers us out the door and we hit the pubs. The first one, Smyth’s, is quite a scene. Guitar rock pounding, young people preening. We sit in a corner booth and feel old, but I discover I do like Guinness. The only other time I had been in Dublin, for a weekend when I was studying abroad in England, I had tried it, as all tourists must, but didn’t like it. Then again, it wasn’t until I lived in Japan that I even had a taste for beer. This time the Guinness was smooth and velvety like good coffee, not too bitter. Then we went next door where the lights were on and hair (where it remained) was mostly white, and no music played. We feel too young.

For all of you who have asked, I think we’ve finally gotten a handle on the whole hot water thing. And in another American expat blog I read, she mentioned this YouTube sketch which may give you a (profanity-laced) idea of what I was talking about with regards to the heater you have to switch on, (but only sometimes, not in the “winter months,” whenever exactly those are:

Cutting teeth

Today was Sascha’s first day in the office since officially moving to Dublin, and the poor guy has a miserable head cold. He is clammy and stuffed up, in part because of the sudden change in weather (a 30 degree difference), and in part, of course, because of the great weight upon him these past few months, not only holding down the job while finishing up commitments in the U.S., helping to pack up and move us, but also the responsibility he feels for moving us all here. Parenthood has forced us into some gender stereotypes, a kind of divide-and-conquer dynamic necessary when parenting twins.

So today began a taste of the reality of life here, excepting of course we have my mom, whom Sascha calls “Mary Poppins” and to whom G has developed an incredible attachment. I am hoping G’s attachment to her may make it harder for her to leave. It’s a big plus in our “Don’t leave” campaign, but there are some minuses we are trying to sort through that I fear may send her packing for the easy comfort of her life in suburbia. For example, we are trying our best to figure out the hot water heating tank. She had the great misfortune of deciding to wash her hair this evening only to discover, after soaping up her hair, that there was, in fact, no hot water left. (Having had this experience yesterday morning, I declined showering today.) We also spent some time standing before our oven, perplexed by the half-rubbed off hieroglyphics, which meant we burnt the skin of our sweet potatoes but hadn’t cooked them all the way through. When we first arrived, she gasped at the size of the freezer. For the record, it is probably a bit bigger than the size of the freezer in our old Brooklyn Heights place, for those of you who have seen it. I think she hoped to do as she and my in-laws had done in those first months of life with the boys: to fill our freezer with soups, sauces, lasagnas. After all, she is an Irish woman who had to cook for an Italian man, so at our house on Sundays, it was a pot of sauce on the stove all day with meatballs, and copious leftovers to freeze. We can’t bulk up on bread or other staples to minimize our trips to the store because there is no room to store them. The other interesting adjustment is that the trash collection is only every other week, and you are charged by what you throw out, essentially, which makes you more aware of the trash you generate. That is quite a good thing, and something the States in particular needs more awareness of, but we also have two children in diapers. The trash bin is already full and we’ve another week to go! Thus, our twilight hero:

Sascha: lover, scholar, gentleman, and human trash compactor. We may need to hasten along the potty training.

Last night, we had a wonderful dinner with our friend Chris, who is from L.A. but has been in town for business. We are lucky that her last week here for a while coincides with our first week. It is a fitting bookending of our lives and the unexpected paths they’ve taken since the boys were blips on an ultrasound. We were able to cobble together a decent enough pasta dinner, made better by the wine and bread she brought and her getting to see the boys again, since she last saw them when they were just weeks old and we were more or less catatonic:

We had an impromptu dinner and the boys went down around 8pm and slept through until the morning. We thought we were getting it. But tonight, one after the other, the boys keep waking up. All of our hard work sleep training them when they were 5-6 months old, which I feel is one of the best parenting decisions we ever made, is falling apart. It is even worse, because they sense our footsteps and cry out for “Marmy” (as they call their Grammy), or “Dada,” or wail plaintively, “Maa-ma, maa-ma!” If you have children, you may know that this sort of crying at close range (as in a car) can feel like someone is drilling directly into your brain with a tiny bit through your ear canal. You feel evil for ignoring it and if you give in, you realize you are a total sucker. As I often do when I have no explanation for their behavior, I blame it on teething. Yesterday when C. and I did our pas de deux, (he throws his head back and goes limp in my arms while we waltz), I thought I saw some white peaks poking through. But then again, he really doesn’t have that many more baby teeth to come in, and what about G?

I went out to Ranelagh village while they napped today, to run errands. Namely we wanted to make Sascha chicken soup and I wanted to look for ride-on toys for the boys and a few things from the hardware store. My mom and the boys stayed inside all day, which isn’t ideal, but being so rain-soaked and chilled yesterday made us reluctant to head out. It is going to be very tricky with them and no car to protect us from the elements. A drizzle is one thing, but a rain that falls in sideways sheets conspiring with a wind that tears your hood off is quite another when you are pushing around two cranky kids. My mom and I are yearning to explore the city beyond the villages that lay within a reasonable walking distance, but we feel a bit intimidated about negotiating the double stroller on public transportation, especially with the boys being so unpredictable right now.

I guess we are all just cutting teeth here, trying to learn the basics and figure out our new lives.

PS: I realize you have all seen a million pictures of G & C before, and you are probably dying to see a glimpse of Ireland. So am I!! Also, we have some flash drive/Mobile vodafone thingy that sometimes gives us wireless, sometimes not. So hopefully we can have an incredibly pixellated Skype chat/house tour soon. Congrats to Mike & Crystal–my parents will welcome their 7th grandchild–the 6th boy!–next year.