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Emma & Maneesh on the Big OE

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

IRELAND | Monday, 3 January 2011 | Views [624]

Us outside Eva's house.

Us outside Eva's house.

DECEMBER 24TH
It was predicted that we would have 30 days of snow and 60 days of frosts this winter. Well December sure has proven that prediction correct so far, we have had frosts in Limerick every morning and snow is covering most parts of Ireland, including Newcastle West where I work. For the past 2 weeks now we have had sub-zero temperatures continuously, with highs during the day of -5 or -6°c, and overnight lows of around -10°c in Limerick city and yesterday when I got out to Newcastle West it was -13°c. My work mate had a bottle of water in here car yesterday and it froze solid during the day! It was a beautiful sunny day, it looked fairy tale like. The freezing fog has turned the trees into ice sculptures. Outside my work in the carpark the snow has been compacted, it is now 1 inch thick solid ice, lethal for driving on and walking on. Everyone has cancelled their appointments because it is too dangerous to come into see us, yet we still have to be there.
Em had Christmas Eve off, I went into work for the morning, and stopped off in Adare on the way to take photos of the river which was frozen. Amazing to see, and hear (it was constantly cracking and groaning). Shortly after leaving work at midday, I was 2 minutes down the road at an intersection and someone slid into the back of me. Thankfully it was all low speed and no one was hurt, but there was a good crack in my bumper and a dent in the boot. After exchanging details, I was on the road and into Limerick.
Once I got into Limerick Em was just starting to heat up our lunch, so we ate that then packed up the car and we were on the road by about 2pm. We headed up to Eva's parents house, who had kindly invited us up for Christmas to share it with their family. Eva was also on the road and along the way she caught us up. The trip up was beautiful, shortly after leaving Limerick the fog lifted and we got as hot as  -3. We made good progress until we got to Athlone, where we started to get into more snow and the sun had set. But we just took it easy and made it up in about 4 hours which was not too bad. The last few kilometres to Eva's family house were country back roads and they were slippery, so it was a very slow last part of the drive. We arrived shortly after 6pm and it was -13°c, so pretty chilly.
After saying hello, we unpacked the car. The Gildea house looked very Christmassy with decorations everywhere including a holly wreath on the door and up the banister of the stairs.We had a tasty dinner, then relaxed for the evening. We rang Wongaburra, Kinloch and Te Kuiti to wish them a very Merry Christmas , and since we were on skype we showed them our snow and frost. After a good chat with them it was bed time.
 
DECEMBER 25TH
Merry Christmas! Last night got down to -17°c, which was one of the coldest nights they could remember. It was cold, but it was beautifully clear, we woke up to find a true winter wonderland, everything was white, the ground, the trees, the houses, everything. But the sky was blue and the sun was shining brightly.
Em and I were nearly the first ones up in the Gildea household. Eileen, Eva's Mum, made up a delicious fry for breakfast once everyone was up. There was Eileen, Michael (Eva's Dad), Donal (Eva's older brother), Eva, Sean (Eva's younger brother), and Aiden (Eva's other younger brother) as well as Em and I. Eva’s sister Aine was in Australia. After breakfast everyone left the kitchen and went into the lounge. We thought they were going to get ready for Christmas mass but they were going in for present opening. They had all of their presents laid out in different parts of the room, then everyone just got into the unwrapping, so it was a little hive of activity for a good few minutes. We even got a few pressies which was cool.
Once present opening was done we all got ready as we went off to Christmas mass. We left home at about 11:25am for an 11:30am mass. We were a little late but not too bad. It was about 15 minutes drive and the countryside was amazing. There were lakes that had ice on top of them. There is a traditional Christmas swim, and it still went ahead. They actually had to use sledge hammers to smash the ice because it was 6 inches thick! We went to mass in Drumod, which was a beautiful church. The holy water in the font was frozen solid. There was standing room only when we arrived. After about 40 minutes mass was over and were on the road back to the Gildea house, but as per their tradition we stopped in at the McQueeny's, family friends of theirs.
As soon as we walked in and introduced ourselves I was handed a whiskey and Em a brandy. It was just gone midday! They were a lovely family and we had a good couple of hours there chatting with them, and the families caught up with one another. We left there at about 2:30pm and headed home. We had no problems, until we got to the last hill of the drive, which was by far the steepest one. We did not manage to make it up with us in the car, so we got out and Aiden tried forwards and reverse, trying different speeds. After about 7 or 8 tries he managed to get it up the hill going forwards and 3 of us pushing to keep it going forwards as well, which was the winning formula.
When we got back to the house we had a pretty quiet afternoon. We just watched some telly and relaxed until it was time for Christmas dinner which was at about 6pm.There were entrees first, I had smoked salmon on brown bread, Em had a shrimp cocktail. After this for dinner we had turkey, ham, roast potatoes, mashed potato, brussel sprouts and stuffing. It was all delcious. Then there were the crackers of course before the dessert came, which was Christmas pudding, fruit salad, and a sherry trifle. So it was pretty similar, or the same really to what we would have at home for Christmas dinner. The brussel sprouts are compulsory here! (Em LOVES them).
After dinner we played cards with Michael, which was slightly confusing, he tried teaching us a game called 25, but there were so many rules, we did not quite get it (was it possible he was making some up as we went along??) At about 11pm one of the neighbours popped over for a Christmas drink, as would be normal, so we were up until about 1am chatting with them. All in all it was a great Christmas considering it was a Christmas away from home and away from family. Our only white Christmas that I imagine we will ever experience and it was fun to have one. A real fairy tale Christmas.
 
December 26th
After a great sleep in we woke up to a rainy, gloomy day. Hard to believe it was such a stunning day the day before. The rain had already started melting the snow, and during the day the whiteness seemed to disappear before our eyes. It was a very quiet day. We stayed at home for most of the day really. In the afternoon we skyped our friends James and Julie to see how their Christmas was. At about 5pm Eva was going to go and do some visiting so we went along with her. She first took us to her parish at Mohill, which is their nearest town. From here we tried to do some visiting but they must have been out visiting because there was no one home, so we headed back home. At about 7pm they had a couple of visitors who popped in for a drink. They left and headed into town as did Eva and a couple of her brothers. Em and I decided to stay home and get an early night. We were in bed by about 11pm and it was very much welcomed.
 
 
December 27th
We were up at just after 7am to have showers and get ourselves all packed up. When we got downstairs Eileen had already cooked a breakfast up for us. Once we’d feasted, we loaded up the car. Eva got up (after quite a late night) to wish us a good trip. We said our goodbyes and hit the road. We had an extra for the trip to Dublin, Oisin (oh-sheen), the son of the McQueeny's who we visited on Christmas day. We left by about 9am and were at his house on the outskirts of Dublin by 11am. The trip down was very good, the roads had completely thawed and it was easy driving. After wasting a bit of time browsing in a couple of shops we went to our carpark and dropped off the car and headed to the airport. We got there at about midday. I decided to recheck our flight info and it turned out we were very early, we did not fly until 4:10pm, I thought that was our landing time! So we wasted the time in the airport, a thing we are quite good at doing these days. 
By the time it was boarding time we were more than happy to. It went well, we got good seats, and everyone was ready for an on time take off, then the captain came on the radio to say that there would be a delay, the baggage crew had knocked an antennae off the plane, so they were going to try and fix it. Unfortunately a little while later he came on to say that it was unsuccessful and we were going to have to change planes. By the time we waited for a plane to come and we changed, it was just after 6pm before we took off to fly to London. Once we got to Gatwick we caught a train and then a bus to James and Julie's house in Wimbledon. We ended up getting there at close to 9pm. Julie had dinner ready for us and we had a nice evening catching up.
 
December 28th
After a small sleep in we were up and out the door to the Natural History Museum, which we were all excited about. We were planning to be there for opening at 10am but did not get there until 11am. There was a queue of about 30 or 40m, but it went fast enough, and once inside we went straight for the Dinosaurs. We ended up staying in there until after 2pm looking at different areas. It was good, but we did not think it was brilliant, we still prefer the Science Museum. We were disappointed initially at how late we were, but when we were leaving the queue for admission and to see the Dinosaurs was far longer, so we did not feel too bad. After being 'museumed out' for the day we wanted something to eat, and found a Turkish place for lunch which was great. After satisfying our appetites we went to Julie's sisters house to collect her before we went to the pub for a drink.  From there we headed home for dinner and then relaxed for the evening. 
 
December 29th
We woke up at about 7am when James and Julie were up to go to work, but since we did not have to get up we went back to sleep and slept until 10:30am! After getting ready we went to Putney Bridge where we met Lisa and Andrew, friendly from London. They were just starting their 'OE' and had only arrived in London a few days before Christmas. We had a nice lunch out with them and had a good catch up.  They had organised jobs before they arrived which was great for them and they had managed to find a house since they arrived so they had done very well.
We left them just after 5pm and squeezed into the tube, along with all of the other 'sardines' at that time of day, and went to Edgeware Rd, where we met my cousin Pram. This area had a large variety of restaurants, including lots of middle Eastern restaurants. We had a lovely dinner out with her. Every time we come to London we meet her for dinner or lunch and she always asks what we want, so we think of something and she takes us to a fantastic place to eat. She has lived in London for almost 10 years, so she has a good knowledge of the culinary delights of London. We were with here until about 9pm, when we tubed back to James and Julie's and had an early night.
 
December 30th
We were up at a reasonable time and started our day of touristing by heading to the Portabello Markets at Nottinghill. The markets were not really on as such, but there are always shops there, so we had a nice time wandering along the street and browsing the shops. It threatened to rain most of the morning and came in small amounts, but it did not come to much thankfully. Once we were done there we caught the tube out east to Upton Park. We had been here once before and loved it, it is like travelling to another country, English would not be the first language here. We went for lunch at ‘Chai Wallah’ and had a Chai and some fantastic food. We ate too much but loved it all, it was so hard to stop. After lunch we wandered the shops and found a number of things we were tempted to buy but managed to resist on everything! We went to the markets there and picked up some limes and mint. We would have bought more but would not have eaten it. It was about 4pm so we thought we should start heading home. We had one stop along the way to go to a supermarket, before we got home and made dinner for James and Julie. I was noticing that my energy levels were getting quite low, like I was getting a bad cold and I was not wrong unfortunately. After dinner we just relaxed.

December 31st
New Years eve, and we had a great day of touristing really. We were up at a decent time and caught the tube with Julie at about 7:30am. We hopped off at Notting Hill Gate. We were a little late for the bus we wanted to catch so went for a small walk to Hyde Park, then turned around and started to head back to the bus stop. But on our way back to the stop the bus went past which we thought we should be on. Unfortunately they did not stop, so we went to the bus stop to wait. A couple of minutes later I was looking across the road and thought that maybe we were on the wrong side of the road. Unfortunately a bus went by on that side. We were indeed on the wrong side. So we crossed over and waited for another 20 minutes until the next bus arrived. The bus ride up was good but we did not see anything overly exciting, just pretty English countryside. We arrived in Oxford just after 10:30am and after finding the information centre and a loo, we got on to a walking tour at 11am which went until just before 1pm. It was very interesting, although Em was skeptical about our tour guide – she thought he was making half of it up (he seemed a bit vague). We looked through the grounds of Trinity College and he explained that there are 38 colleges within the University, and each of the people within the college are taught at their college instead of going to lectures as such. It was very different to the university system we are used to, but basically they are taught by tutors within their college and most colleges offer most courses. The students do sit the same exams, set by the university though. Apart from the university landmarks he showed us the library which is one of the biggest in the world, the pub where Shakespeare used to drink and where Hamlet was first performed outside of London, as well as many other places and dropping names like Bill Clinton, and Tolkien. He also pointed out a few places where some of Harry Potter, and ‘Morse’ were filmed.
After the tour we went and had some lunch in 'The Crown Inn' where Shakespeare used to often drink, and had a nice lunch there. I was starting to get a little low on energy by this stage so it was nice to have a rest from the very cold day outside. After lunch we wandered around the cobbled streets some more, and went to the top of the big church in central Oxford to check out the view, which was pretty impressive across the old rooftops and spires, full of history. We decided we would go to the museum from here, but when we got there it was closed, so we wandered around the streets some more before we decided to head back to the bus stop and catch it back to London. When we got there we thought it had left, so went and got a cup of coffee in a cafe near by, only to see it pull up. We decided not to hurry and just catch the next one, but 10 minutes later it was still there so we finished off and got that one and headed back to London.
Oxford really was a cool place to visit, well worth the day outing. We would highly recommend it to anyone. Just the buildings alone we fantastic we thought. It would be even better if they were all open so you could visit inside (they just weren’t due to it being New Year’s).
We both had small sleeps on the way back, which was good, as it was dark by then. Once back in London we caught the tube back to James and Julie's house. Randomly two stops after we hopped on Julie hopped on to the carriage as well.
When we got home we helped rearrange their apartment as James' brother, Julie's sister and a couple of friends were coming over for New Years Eve. They arrived soon after 7pm, and after nibbles we had lasagne for dinner. Before dinner James and I opened up a bottle of Primator 24%. This is a beer we found in the Czech Republic when they joined us for two weeks in the van. We were only ever able to find 3 bottles, but Julie went to Prague in early December and found this one bottle. James saved it especially for our visit, so we thought that would be a good time to have it. It was still as tasty as ever.
 It was a fun evening just sitting and chatting really. At midnight we put on the BBC to watch the countdown and the fireworks. We had debated about whether to go into central London for the fireworks but decided not to because of the huge crowds. We were pretty happy we made this decision. The fireworks were spectacular, but we had a good view of them on the TV.
Everyone left at about 1:30am, and after a clean up which did not take long we went to bed.
 
January 1st, 2011
Happy New Year! It was a nice start to the new year with a sleep in until 11:30am. Julie made a cooked breakfast for us, then Em and I went into the west end with a plan of going to see the musical 'Wicked'. We got to the discount ticket places at 2:10pm and they did not have any and said we would have to go to the theatre so we rushed there, and got there at 2:25pm, got tickets and made it for the 2:30pm show so that was great. It was really, really good, and the two witches had incredible voices. We did not have the best seats (very high up and far from the stage) but still thoroughly enjoyed the show. It put a whole new slant on 'The Wizard of Oz' – it’s the story of how the Wicked Witch of the West became ‘Wicked’ (turns out she was actually really lovely :-)
After the show we headed back to James and Julies for dinner. After dinner we skyped Em's parents in Australia, then it was bed time. A pretty lazy start to the year, but we were happy with that.
 
Janaury 2nd
We were up at a reasonable hour and after breakfast we went driving with James and Julie through Wimbledon, including going past the tennis centre which was cool to see. They took us to   Richmond Park which was amazing. It was a huge park within London, 2360 acres! It used to be the Royal Hunting ground. We saw lots and lots of deer. It was so random to have something like this in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. We decided that if we lived in London this would definitely be a place we would be going to, especially on a nice day.
After dropping the car off we caught the tube into the city and all met up with Pram, Vani, and Jason at 1pm for Dim Sum. They took us to a place that they knew and it was brilliant. There was a bit of a wait, which is always a good sign. So we had a lovely time catching up with them and enjoying the delicious food that was on offer. Our London trips these days are never complete without Dim Sum (yum cha).  After lunch we said our goodbyes and went to Abbey Rd, just to see what was there and what it was like. It was quite busy, and not that great either. We saw the studio and the crossing, but there was nothing much to see. Then we went for a walk and went past Lords cricket grounds, which left me wanting to go and see a test match there more than ever. We tried to go in but got stopped at the gate by a security guy so that was unsuccessful. It was starting to get quite late by this stage so we decided to catch the tube home, and have dinner. We just relaxed for the evening and enjoyed our last evening with our good friends before flying out in the morning.
 
January 3rd
Em and I were up early and after saying goodbye we left by 7:10am. We had to catch a bus to the train station then that took us out to the airport. We made it without incident and with plenty of time to spare. Unlike our flight to London we departed on time and were back in Dublin just before 11am. After catching the bus to the car park we picked up the car and drove back to Limerick and back to the reality of work tomorrow. It was great to spend a week in London after having so many weekends there, we were able to get lots of things done that we had been putting off so that was good. 

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