|Saturday, July 12th, 2014|
1:15p - London and Ireland Trip, October 10: Dromoland Castle
Lori’s pancakes at Marless House.
On Friday, we were growing aware that our time in Ireland was ending soon.
We found a post office and mailed home all the books we’d bought, so that we could fit everything into our bags. We then parked near the Latin Quarter (in a parking garage with such small parking spaces that parking was a nerve-wracking process) to finish up our shopping.
We stumbled on a group of preteens doing a balloon release. Lori learned that this was honoring a classmate who had died.
We ate our last lunch at Griffin’s Bakery and Coffee Shop, because it had caught Lori’s fancy the previous day.
Unfortunately, it was not very satisfying; we were squeezed uncomfortably into a tight corner, and service was very slow.
My bacon and brie sandwich convinced me of two things: 1) brie is not the best cheese to accompany Irish bacon, and 2) if you’re going to cook the bacon and toast the bread, I think you really ought to melt the cheese as well.
Lori’s burger was so overcooked it was hard, and though it was not a very large burger, it was so tall that it was hard to eat. A friend of ours has a similar story of a burger in Ireland with a hard, round patty; he’s been told by his Irish coworkers that a burger in Ireland is typically eaten with a knife and fork. I am of course biased by my upbringing, but I prefer American burger style.
Lori had chosen the bakery more because of its promise of dessert, and after much deliberation over all the possibilities, she settled on an eclair.
It took us a while to finish our shopping, and then we hit a traffic jam leaving Galway. So it was late afternoon before we arrived at our final hotel. Had we known what we were getting, we would have struggled to have more time there.
I have mentioned before that the travel agent who had recommended Ballyseede Castle to us had been very cost-focused. But my belief is that if I’m going to splurge (and any castle stay is at least a bit of a splurge), I should splurge big enough that the sense of luxury overwhelms my penny-pinching, cost-compromising ways. I feel more splurged with an utter splurge rarely than with a partial splurge more frequently. So after we gave up on that travel agent, we asked a consultant at Rick Steves about options for a wondrous castle splurge. He too was very cost-conscious at first, but he realized what we wanted and adjusted, and his recommendation was Dromoland Castle.
Dromoland was another opportunity to briefly experience another culture - in this case, the culture of the landed gentry. And they did a marvelous job of making that culture accessible by gently managing the experience. I will explain with three stories:
- A porter brought our bags to our room for us. (We appreciated this; there were several sets of stairs.) As we started to consider a tip, he vanished, making it quite clear that no tip was expected.
- I realized that I had left my phone in the car. So I walked to the front desk to ask where the cars were parked, because valet parking had whisked them away. The desk clerk suggested, “why don’t you let the porter get it for you?” I returned to our room, and a few minutes later, the porter knocked, handed me my phone, and vanished again.
- At dinner, they changed the table settings with every course. This eliminated any anxiety over what fork to use - there was only one set of utensils available at any time.
Our room at Dromoland was actually not as eccentrically wonderful as our room at Lawcus Farm. But the view from our window was splendid.
We had a bit of time to tour the grounds.
They had their own folly, a petite Greek temple.
The Hermit’s Cottage was built about a century ago and has probably never sheltered an actual hermit.
The lily pond next to it achieves greater authenticity by hosting actual lilies.
We spent the last twilight in the Walled Garden.
I was impressed with what good roses they had in October.
We dressed as smartly as we could for dinner at the Earl of Thomond. I wished I had brought a tie; I still felt underdressed. But no one made us feel unwelcome. Dinner was superb, and again they made the luxury very accessible, with very helpful explanations for all of our questions and good suggestions of food and wine. (The wine list was the size of a telephone book. Part of that turned out to be because the pages were very thick, but even so there were many pages.)
I began with a wild mushroom and chorizo risotto. It was amazing, with sumptuous flavor and rich texture.
The spoon provided for the risotto was very shallow, with an asymmetric shape that I didn’t recognize. I posted a quip about it on Facebook, and my sister asked for a picture, which I had not taken. So at breakfast the next day, I asked them to bring out such a spoon for me to photograph.
Lori had a beautiful goat cheese appetizer.
A lovely champagne sorbet cleansed her palate before the entrees.
I had the fennel and star anise soup. It was much more delicious than it was photogenic.
Silver domes covered our entrees, and the staff would assemble around each table and lift all domes at the same time while exclaiming “voila!” This definitely gave a special feel to the experience, with the only fly in the ointment being the goon taking the picture.
Lori’s entree was roast chicken with etuvee of cabbage, mashed potatoes with scallions. This may not sound terribly exciting, but there’s something wonderful about fresh ingredients prepared well. Lori’s dinner was delicious, and the new potatoes with butter were especially good.
I chose the entree of Irish beef sirloin with shallot sauce. It was wonderful, sumptuous beef.
My dessert was caramel parfait, berry coulis, and house made ice cream. It might just be a matter of my own tastes, but I’d call it “quite good” instead of the “astounding” level of the previous dishes. But this may be like singling out the slowest runner at the Olympics.
Lori: pink meringue trio with mango sauce Lori was delighted by her sweet, pink dessert.
Because we were splurging, I asked the sommelier to recommend a nice port to finish the meal. He said he had an excellent 1988 port that he had just decanted, which he was offering at a special price. We had a moment of confusion when I thought the price he was quoting was for a whole bottle, not just a single glass. It was very good, but I think it was wasted on me; I think it would have been hard for me to distinguish it from a much cheaper port. Lori: Port and truffles were all incredibly lovely, and a rich finish to a sumptuous meal.
When staying at a nice hotel, nothing will take me out of that feeling of luxury more than nickel-and-diming with little charges. A minibar in the room will make me grumble, and paying for WiFi will make me sulk and snarl. Dromoland didn’t nickel-and-dime in that way, but did charge extra for some amenities - but when I discovered that falconry was available for an additional fee, my only reaction was regret that we had arrived too late for me to enjoy it.
Dromoland was certainly a mighty splurge, but we felt that we did get the splendidly luxurious experience that we had paid for. There were places like Lawcus Farm where we got much more value than what we paid for, but Dromoland was at least as good as its price. Lori repeatedly said that she didn’t want to leave, because pretending to be a princess was enchanting!
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1:47p - London and Ireland Trip, October 11: Return Home
We ate breakfast at Dromoland before leaving. I took a picture of the dining room that I had not been willing to take the previous evening.
I saw a grilled kipper on the breakfast menu. I am usually only neutral on seafood, but this was something I'd heard of as a British breakfast dish and not yet tried. And I thought that I could be certain that it was prepared here as well as it might be anywhere, so I could be confident that I was judging it at its best. Well, now I've had a grilled kipper under good conditions, and I can feel confident when I choose something else in the future. It was intensely fishy, and the taste lingered for so long that I could still taste kipper when we landed in the US.
Where I tried for bold experimentation in my breakfast choice, Lori chose something she was confident she would like: lemon ricotta pancakes with raspberry coulis. They were delightful.
From that splendid finale at Dromoland, we plunged directly into mundanity.
Go to the airport. (Just a few miles away from Dromoland.)
Return the rental car and accept the charge for the broken side mirror.
Fly to Heathrow.
Fly to Washington, DC, arriving at midnight body time.
Wait in a series of very long lines for Customs. (They confiscated the Gubbeen salami that we had bought as a souvenir for Lori's father.)
Fly to Pittsburgh, arriving at 5am body time. (I am so glad that Paul was able to pick us up; I was definitely out of it after the long day of travel.)
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