Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I cannot believe it is almost 2 months since we went on our little trip, and I’ve yet to share part 2 with you!!

I apologise.

Day 2 of our stay at Groomsport was wet.  It rained, and it rained well.  Thankfully we had done all the outdoor stuff the day before!

On the agenda for day 2 was the Titanic Centre.  Many guests who have stayed with us, and been to the Titanic Centre had described the experience. However, it was still not quite what I was expecting.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the visit, but I just had a completely different idea about it in my head.

Titanic Centre

Titanic Centre, Belfast

I had expected to see dusty old drawing rooms, which I did, but only on film.  Even though it was late November, the centre was really quite crowded.

If you do visit, make sure to go across the road and visit the Titanic’s sister ship, the Nomadic.  It is the last White Star Line ship still ‘alive’.

As the rain continued to pour down we decided we’d go visit Queen’s University.  I had heard it was beautiful, but had never been.  And, I must say, even on a terrible wet November day, it is a beautiful building.  We had a wander around, checked out their wonderful silver museum section, admired those who have been awarded honorary degrees… spotted Brian O’Driscoll in among them.

Queen’s University, Belfast

There was time for a quick tea/coffee stop at The Pocket… a quirky little coffee shop across the road from Queen’s.

Then it was time to head back to Groomsport to visit their local pub.

For our final day, I was all excited to be going to St. George’s Market.  It was another dreadful day weather-wise but our spirits were high with the thought of all the lovely food we were going to be able to indulge in.  We had invited Laura and Matt for dinner, so we headed off to the market with a vague idea that we would just buy lots of gorgeous food to share.

How disappointed we were!  The market was abuzz, but most of the food stalls were of the take-away variety.  Neither of us are great ‘walk around eating food’ people.  We are more the sit down, be served and chat type.

There were some nice non-food stalls, but overall we were disappointed.

As we were leaving we did come across a mostly-organic vegetable stall… so suddenly dinner became steaks with organic salad and potatoes.  Good, but not what we had planned!!

Despite the last minute change to the menu we had a wonderful evening with friends sharing food, drinking nice wine, and finishing off with some delicious local cheeses.

A nice way to end our wee break.

For the first time in 5 years we had the chance to get away for a few days.  Besides doing bed and breakfast, it is the animals that are the greatest tie for us, most especially the dogs.  They are about us all day, every day, so if we go away we need to organise ‘company’ for them.

This year, friends, who had come into our lives as b and b guests, volunteered to come house-sit for us.  Other friends offered us a place to stay… so with a bit of juggling it finally all came together and we headed to Northern Ireland.  I thought I’d share with you how we planned (using that term very loosely) our days away.

We had three full days staying in Groomsport – a village located outside of Belfast. We were overlooking the beach.  Even in November this was wonderful!

Our view every morning

We had broad ideas of the things we’d like to do… me : Giant’s Causeway and Carrig a Rede Bridge; Alfie:  Bushmill’s and the Titanic Centre.

Our approach was this… we choose 3 things for each day, a mix of indoor and outdoor activities .. and then stay flexible as weather and time/daylight especially comes into play in November.

Our first day, Thursday, was bright and windy so we headed straight to the Giant’s Causeway.  We took the self-guided audio tour which is well worth it for the myths and legends that the guide was telling.  The views are spectacular.  It is quite a walk down to the Causeway.  Let me say, the columns are way way smaller than all those photos you’ve seen lead you to believe!

The columns are smaller than I expected!

We climbed to Finn McCool’s organ, and then even tackled the 162 Shepherd’s Steps.  Well worth the climb for the views.  I swear you could just about make out Scotland across the water.

Causeway View from Top

In total we spent about 2.5 hours at the Causeway.

As it started to spit rain we decided to head back into Bushmills about 2 miles away to visit the distillery.  This was where we got our first indication of the ‘currency’ charges.  Most visitor centres in Northern Ireland add an extra 30% onto the charge when you are using a ‘euro’ Visa card.  That was a shock!

We still did the tour, which is definitely worth doing (btw no photos allowed in there).  However, we didn’t buy any whiskey as weirdly we can buy it cheaper back at home!!!!

When we came out from tour, rain had stopped so a short drive over to Carrig A Rede bridge.  However, luck was not on our side.  As I say it was a bright and windy day… but the wind meant that the bridge was closed.  It was also at this point that we made the discovery that it gets darker earlier up North!  I know makes common sense, but hadn’t thought about it before we left.  There was at least half an hour in the difference!

While there was still a little bit of light left in the day we continued along the coastal route heading back towards Belfast.  Quite a spectacular route.

More details of our trip coming later.

Car Rental In Ireland

I am starting this blog post without any idea of whether I will be able to offer a solution.

Over this past summer, guests have recounted so many bad dealings with car rental companies here.  As the car rental company is generally the first point of contact for an incoming tourist, the fact that this proves to be a nightmare reflects badly on us all.

Here are just a sample of the issues.

US guests having booked ahead and believing that they have paid everything in advance, arrive and are being charged €3 – 5,000 on their credit card as an extra security.  Similarly, US guests booking with a credit card that includes Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), on arrival being told that the cover isn’t ‘specific enough’ and are charged again – often doubling the cost of rental.  Here’s an American article which goes into great detail as to which credit cards offer best coverage (9 Best Credit Cards for Car Rental Insurance Coverage [2019]).

Then there was the German guest who booked and paid for his 10 day car rental prior to travelling.  Then got into Dublin and the rental company refused to accept his ‘old style’ driving licence.  It was valid and in date, but it was just the ‘old style’.  This guest ended up walking away from the pre-paid rental and forking out a substantial amount to another rental company that would accept his old style licence.

As I said at the start I’m not sure I can even offer a solution to all this mess.

From what research I’ve done, here is what I’ve discovered.

  • Often it is cheaper to hire a car away from the airport… even just travelling from Dublin Airport to Swords (4 miles away) can reduce your rental costs! (A taxi driver told me that it is a €10 journey from Airport to Swords).
  • If you are searching for a car rental company from outside Ireland…. it can often be cheaper to go for a .ie website rather than .com
  • With regard to the CDW issue, I have found that you can buy an annual policy for c. €60.00.  Now I don’t know if all car rental companies will accept such a policy, but it is perhaps worth asking them.

Of course, one of the biggest hurdles with all of the above, is that it is virtually impossible to speak to a ‘human’ when renting a car.

To me, the simple solution with regard to the CDW being included by your credit card company would seem that the car rental companies and credit card companies should perhaps ‘talk’ to each other and clarify the matter.  Or is that just too simplistic a resolution!!!

One solution, that I can offer, when we were travelling a number of years back and needed to hire a car, we too had a nightmare experience as we don’t use a credit card.  Car rental companies won’t accept debit cards!  We eventually found a company called Indigo based in the UK.  They now have an Irish office.  They organised our car for us, with one of the rental companies who had refused us when we approached them.  AND, the rate we were charged on our debit card, was lower than that quoted to us directly by the rental firm.  AND, we actually got to speak to a human to arrange our car hire.  Give them a call if you are travelling … they may be able to assist you.

I have spoken to Failte Ireland (our national Tourism Board) about this whole debacle.  I’m not sure what, if any, influence they can exert over rental companies.

Would love to hear if others have had negative experiences with car rental companies?  Or perhaps someone else has a solution?

 

A very busy summer

How have you all been?  Has your summer been good?

We’ve had a crazy busy time here in Redwood. In May, and even into June, I was convinced that we would have a very quiet bed and breakfast season.  BUT suddenly it all kicked off, bookings came rushing in.  And while it was all a bit manic for a time, we are extremely grateful to all who came and stayed.

It was fun to meet so many wonderful people.

Our guests came from all corners of the world.  This year we had our first guests from Norway, Romania and Finland.  We love hearing about the home lives of folks, and why they make the decision to come to Ireland.

Earlier in the year we had been contemplating renovating an old farmhand cottage, but in the end decided that that there was too much red tape and expenditure.  Instead we’ve converted what used to be my ‘study’ and is now what we refer to as the Library Room.  This has been the most popular room of this season.  It also means that we can now accommodate six people at once.

The Library Room

We’ve had some ‘hairy’ and some funny moments over the past few months.

  • Lots of guests had to be roped into sheepherding duties. We’ve the two greatest escape artists ever this year, no matter which field we put them in they find a way out.  We do our best to provide an ‘authentic’ experience!
  • There were the guests who requested an early book in… then never showed up at all ….. not a happy camper that day.
  • Then guests who arrived with their cocker spaniel … without warning us! Thankfully, I was outside on their arrival and was able to (almost) roar at them to put dog on lead before he spotted the hens!
  • The guests who did so much shopping on their trip, they needed an extra suitcase… we were able to donate a suitcase to the cause!  Did you know charity shops won’t take suitcases???
  • Lots of guests have given us unexpected gifts…. homegrown chillies from their garden in Canada, a beautiful plate from Cincinnati, wine, maple syrup… I reckon they know us well even before they arrive!
  • I got quite a few opportunities to practice my French.
  • We had our first ‘kosher’ guests… we like challenges.
  • We had many boys and girls who were willing to throw sticks endlessly and tire Ross out… can they come back soon, please, he needs more running about??
  • We had the guest who asked if there were sheets on the bed???
  • And the one who brought his own toilet paper???

As the season slows down, we still have bookings between now and Christmas, and even have had a booking for next year (from a guest that stayed this year)!

Fingers and toes crossed for a good 2020.

Maybe you might decide to come stay in 2020?

Tex-Mex Beef

We spend a lot of time trying new recipes, especially in the winter months.  Some, but not all, are with a view to providing guests with new experiences, sometimes though you just need to spice up the regular ‘go to’ dinners that we have ourselves.

This beef dish has been made many times in recent weeks, partially, because we really like but also because I’ve had a damned hard time getting a decent photograph to share with you.  See the suffering we do on your behalf!  i’ve finally got a couple that are good enough to share.

It is cooked in two stages, which I find handy… I can prep it ahead and then do the final stage when outdoor jobs are done.

I promised our friend, Lily, over at Picado Mexico, that I would not refer to it as Mexican food… it isn’t.  It is more akin to what I remember as Tex Mex from a couple of visits to California.

Ingredients:

  • 450 gr minced beef
  • Vegetable or Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (or chilli powder)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 400 g tin of tomatoes
  • Cheddar
  • Pickled Jalapeños

Method:

In a saucepan heat oil and cook onions gently for a few minutes, add in garlic, then beef.  Continue to cook until beef is nicely browned.

Add the various spices and seasoning.  Mix well.

Add tin of tomatoes, and continue to cook for about 20/25 minutes.

When you re ready to move onto next stage grease a casserole dish and add in your beef mixture.  Grate cheddar on top, and sprinkle over the Pickled Jalapeños (our local Aldi has jars of these at the moment or you can get them from Picado Mexico on line).

Bake in oven for c. 25 minutes, until cheese is golden.

Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Enjoy!

 

 

B&B standards

We had an interesting conversation recently with BnB guests.

Our guests were travelling for business which they do a lot to the more rural parts of Ireland.  This means that they stay in many Bed and Breakfast establishments, as hotels are often not an option.

The highlight of their stay here…. cotton sheets, real coffee and wild flowers in the bedrooms!

They told us that normally they get poly sheets and instant coffee!  This, of course, makes me think that the tea would probably be TEA BAGS!!!!!

Good grief… what is happening out there?

We don’t get away too often, but seriously, this just brought me back to 1980’s B&Bs.

We’ve never joined any of the B&B associations, or gone for any accolades.  Since starting this journey we’ve just gone with our own instinct and how we’d like to be treated.  Sometimes, of course, it does mean a lot of work.  I know not everyone is into ironing sheets (and towels), but I LOVE freshly ironed sheets on my bed, so why wouldn’t a guest like that?  Ironing sheets also gives me an excuse to indulge in my guilty pleasure…… watching quiz shows/cookery programmes on TV.

Another guest also commented recently that our orange juice was the best.  Guys, I just squeeze fresh oranges… not difficult at all.

What has been your best, or indeed, worst B&B experience?  Or is there something that you would love to see Bed & Breakfasts provide?

The Field

Once we decided to scale back on the number of pigs we keep, we wondered what to do with our ‘larger’ field.  It had been well ‘rotovated’ by the pigs over the years!

Our dream would be to have a beautiful meadow in there, but when we started researching the cost it was going to be astronomically high!  One guy suggested we use Round-up to clear the field first and then pay him thousands to come and spread meadow seed.  Now, here, we’ve been here almost 16 years and never used any chemicals and that was his best suggestion.  That is not going to happen.

Buttercup

Eventually we got to speak to a guy who made such wonderful sense!  Don’t you love when you meet someone who understands what you’re at?

His suggestion was to just let the field lie for a year, and to take photographs once a month, of what is growing there.  He believes that the pigs will have disturbed some dormant old seeds and plants, and the fact that we hadn’t used chemicals should mean there will be a lovely selection of wild herbs and flowers growing there.

I’ve decided to use the blog as my recording device, so here is a selection of the early May flowers.

Seems to be related to the ‘pea’ family?

 

Some of these I recognise…. others I don’t…. feel free to enlighten me!

We will do another tour during June, and keep you posted with what is growing in the field!

The B&B season that is.  For us here at Oldfarm, it officially kicked off for 2019 a couple of weeks back, and we’ve just been through a couple of busy weekends.  And, of course, are looking forward to many more busy days and nights.

In the period between Christmas and the beginning of March we took time to re-evaluate at various levels.

We tried out new recipes.  As we had dinner ourselves, or shared with others, if a new dish received approval, it was always followed with ‘could we serve this to guests’?   Lots of new dishes have been added to the repertoire.  We’ve added Keto-friendly recipes, vegetarian and even mastered a few new vegan options. There have even been a few dairy, nut and gluten free desserts added to the mix.  I may even share a few recipes on here.

We have worked hard on your behalf!

Another task that was undertaken during the ‘quiet’ months, was a bit of a revamp. We’ve added a ‘new’ room to the mix.  What used to be my study, is now available as the Library Room, and I must admit I love the look of it.  It has received a major thumbs up from those who’ve already stayed there.

Libraryroom

The Library Room

The twin room (should we think of a more special name for this room?) has also had a bit of a make over.  We hope you like the look.

Twinroom

Twin room

All this revamping means that we can now accommodate 6 people.

In other behind the scenes news…. planting season has also arrived, so we are feverishly working in the tunnel and outside in the garden, to guarantee fresh produce for your visit.

So, I guess, the question is…. when are you coming to visit?  Just in case you want to come… you can book directly (with no hidden fees) right here.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce

January is generally our ‘quiet’ month, so it is the month we try to do some catch up on maintenance jobs and also take time to try out new recipes.  For whatever reason we’ve kind of got an “Asian” theme going on with lots of the recent recipes… I promise I will share them with you over time.

This hoisin sauce came about because we’d had one of our own ducks for Christmas dinner and leftovers were in the fridge.  I mentioned to Alfie that it would be fun to try to recreate the Peking Duck that you see in most Chinese restaurants here.  So, fair play, off he went on the search for recipes.  He found a recipe for Chinese pancakes so we made our own, and he also found this recipe for hoisin sauce.

We found the sauce a bit sweet for our tastes on the first making, so second time around we adjusted the sweetness.

With Chinese New Year just around the corner (5th February), you have plenty of time to give it a go.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. Crunchy Peanut Butter (we are using the one from Aldi that doesn’t contain palm oil)
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. black strap molasses (if you prefer sweeter, use honey)
  • 2 tsp. Rice Vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Sesame Oil
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1 tsp. Chilli paste
  • 1/2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp water

Method:

Blend all ingredients (except cornflour and water) together to make a smooth(ish) paste.

Place in saucepan and heat gently.  Add in the cornflour and water stirring constantly to mix through, if the sauce starts to get too thick add a little boiling water.

Let us know if you try it, and how you like it.

 

 

 

A Close Shave

Well actually it was more than a close shave…. it was a very scary experience.  So much so that I had to calm down before recounting the story to you all.

On the Saturday before Christmas we were late heading into Portumna (our closest town).  It was about 3.45 pm by the time we were all cleaned up, in the clean clothes and ready to go.  It was one of those mid-winter dull days, and a storm was due.

We’d only got a few miles along the main road (R439) when on-coming cars started to flash their lights at us.  Alfie was driving, so he slowed down to see what the problem was.  Well, guys, it was 3 young cattle walking the road!  And, yes, of course, they were black with just white faces.  We reckoned afterwards that they were perhaps 1 year old.

It was dusk and getting dark rapidly.  This was not a safe situation.

We did the only thing we could think of… there was no way you could leave them there.  They were a danger to themselves and to human traffic.  We put on the hazard lights, Alfie got out with torch (no idea how come that was in the car), I switched over to being the driver.  Alfie managed to turn cattle around and started to herd them towards a gate about 500 m away.

This road is quite narrow and very busy.

The cattle were so terrified.

Eventually Alfie signalled to me to get ahead of him, and open the gate.  I parked the car where it was in full view of oncoming traffic…. lights on, and hazards going.  Oh, and by the way, the storm had now arrived and it was suddenly dark although only 4.15 pm, and the rain was torrential (and no I did not have a jacket with a hood!!!).

Alfie is very slowly moving the cattle towards the gate.  They were so frightened, they kept stopping.  Alfie was able to walk right up to them and touch them to move them on.

Meanwhile I’m standing in front of the car lights, both ‘stopping the gap – so cattle wouldn’t get past and waving frantically at cars coming along to slow down.  First one slowed and then moved slowly on.  Second one did…. I turned my back on her for a second to see where Alfie was with the cattle…. and guys, next thing she put her foot to the floor and drove straight at me!  It was the sound of the engine that made me turn just in time to be able to jump out of the way!

I cursed very loudly.

Alfie has admitted that if he had not been there, and I told him the story he would have said I was exaggerating…. but he heard and saw what happened.

We eventually got the poor animals safely into the field before a catastrophic accident was caused.

So did this woman think I was going to try to abduct her?  What was she thinking?  It really was the most bizarre and dangerous behaviour ever.