The English Market, Cork.

There was only one place I wanted to go for breakfast in Cork and that was the English Market, a roofed food market situated in the heart of the city (just look for one of the many signs that post the way). We had already walked through it the day before but I wanted to go back to sample some of the wares on show.

Although the market has beenVeg around since 1788 it only became known as the English Market to distinguish it from St Peter’s Market or the “Irish Market”(which no longer exists) when the local government reformed in 1840.  It’s owned by Cork City Council and is one of the oldest municipal market of it’s kind in the world and it’s amazing!

When you walk in the first thing that hits you are the fresh smells. You know you’re in a
food market! I reckon nowadays if you were blindfolded and left in the likes of Asda or Sainsbury you would struggle to find the fruit and veg aisle because the produce no longer holds the same fresh aromas that they used it. This most definitely isn’t the case in the English Market as your senses are assailed around every corner. My eyes widened at the choice of ingredients available. In the butchery area there were things on display I would have no idea how to cook but it didn’t stop me wanting to get my purse out. Every part of the pig, bar the squeak, was available to buy, tiny lamb’s tongues (yes I know, aww and ewww), every kind of offal possible and all the normal butcher’s cuts but covered inFish diffe
rent herbs or spices or already marinated in some sticky brown substance. The fruit and veg stalls were highly coloured, smelled amazing and again offered produce I had never seen before. The fish stalls boasted fish bigger than me and a fishmonger
had been to the palace to meet the queen and don’t get me started on the bakery section! I was like a Bisto Kid as I walked past admiring all the breads, rolls and pastries. Just mmmmm. There were deli’s, confectioneries and poultry sections as well as stalls dedicated to eggs, tripe, sausages, and olives. If I lived nearby I’d be in the market everyday trying to decide what I could have for dinner that night and supermarket shopping would quickly become a thing of the past.

Upstairs, with a view of the market below, is Farmgate Restaurant. Their menu is dictated by the food stalls and they say the market is their larder. Where else could we have breakfast? I ordered a glass of freshly squeezEggsed orange and a bacon blaa (a square shaped bap/bread roll associated with Waterford). OH had a pot of tea and the Blaa Special – egg, bacon and sausage.

I switched to buying smoked bacon a while ago as I felt I could no longer taste back bacon. This certainly wasn’t the case with the bacon from the market. It was thick, flavoursome and most of all it tasted of pig. It came with a little dish of tomato relish and some pickled cucumber. Everything just worked. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough orange juice – especially when OH’s teapot seemed never-ending. As I was eating my blaa I watched the waiter, an Irish James McAvoy lookalChickenike, make teabags. He’d bring down a jar of dried green leaves, spoon some of them into a small mesh paper bag and repeat until the jar was almost empty. He’d then replace the jar and bring down another.  I was mesmerised.

Breakfast was expensive but I think, considering the view, the bacon and the whole market feel, it was worth it.

Just to make sure I wasn’t being biased I asked OH what he thought of his breakfast blaa. He replied that he enjoyed it but the sausages kept coming back on him.  I then told him my opinion on the Farmgate restaurant and he countered that the view in The Sextant the day before had been better.

“What all the old men sitting at the bar?”

“No, the waitress, she was gorgeous.”

I’m starting to sense a pattern here…

Kissing the Blarney Stone

2014-03-24 21.30.25As I said, I had done some research (mainly on Tripadvisor) before we got to Cork and I had a few places on my ‘To visit’ list. One of these places was a pub called The Sextant and it looked like it did a damn fine breakfast. It was only a short walk from our hotel and opened at 10am so we had a lovely long lie, a refreshing shower, donned our togs and headed out. The pub had just opened and the waitresses/barmaids were still setting up. However, they were very welcoming and made sure we were attended to. The menu was simple but covered every breakfast angle as you could have 2 eggs on toast cooked whatever way you wanted, you could also add bacon, sausage, black or white pudding to that. Or if you were feeling healthy there was porridge and honey, granola with compote & yoghurt or just some coffee or tea & toast.

I chose scrambled egg on toast with coffee and OH had his poached. The coffee was brilliant and the only downside was that I had finished mine before my breakfast arrived. Mind you it gave me the excuse to order another ;p  As we devoured our eggs and toast we watched on as the bar filled up.  One by one, men of differing ages and attire, came in and took a high stool next to one another at the corner of the bar. They were all greeted by name and asked how things were. I think there were maybe about 6 in their Breakfast Club – well there was on that particular Tuesday morning. As they entered they would look over towards us, nod in acknowledgment and take their seats. Then, after a set amount of time, they would order their eggs. I recognised this must change every day as the waitress didn’t have them ready for them but knew exactly what everyone took in their tea or coffee. What was really sweet was that one of them asked for 2 boiled eggs but by the time their order arrived there was another addition to the bar who also wanted boiled eggs. Instead of allowing his fellow breakfast club member to wait for his order he readily gave over one of his and even allowed him to share his soldiers!

Breakfast over, I went to pay the bill at the other end of the bar. The waitress obviously recognised that I wasn’t local and was chatty about our visit to Cork. I told her about our trip and how I had happened upon The Sextant through TripAdvisor. Next door in the bar I could hear an echoey murmur.  TripAdvisor. What. They found it on tripadvisor. Really, Yeah. Wow.

Blarney Castle isn’t far from Cork and kissing the Blarney Stone has been on my Things To Do list for a long time so off we drove to 2014-03-25 11.41.43gain the gift of eloquence. Blarney isn’t a hard place to find and there was plenty parking when we arrived. It was a showery day so we were hoping the rain would stay off to allow as a lengthy visit to the castle. It’s 12.00  per adult to get in to the entire grounds. And trust me when I say it’s important to see the whole grounds and not just the castle and stone. There are lots of interesting walks which allow you to see fairy glades, a witches’ stone, a druids cave, waterfalls, wishing steps, dungeons and a poison garden to name just a few of the mythical sounding sights.

As it was still relatively early and the grounds were quiet we decided to visit the castle first just in case it suddenly got busy.  Now I already knew that kissing the actual stone was a bit scary but no-one warned me of the spiral stairs you have to go up to get to the stone! Climbing this ancient staircase is not for the faint hearted. I’m not good with spiral staircases at the best of times but this one (to me) was treacherous! As the stairs got narrower and narrower, I got scareder and scareder (yes I know that’s not grammatically correct but more scared doesn’t scan as well and I was even more scared than that ;p) At one point I was clinging on to the wall and pulling myself up by my fingernails – it was either 2014-03-25 11.30.15that or going on all fours. Honestly, if you’re not good with spiral staircases or you’re partial to excess pie eating this is not a visit you need to make! At the top my legs were like jelly but my reward was some amazing views.

We made our way round towards the stone and with no-one in front of me it was immediately my turn to kiss the stone. Just in case you don’t know anything about Blarney Castle there is a stone located in part of the wall below the battlements and if you kiss it, myth and legend dictates you will receive the gift of eloquence and never be lost for words again. It used to be that you had to be lowered by your ankles over the battlements to kiss the stone but they’re a bit more cautious nowadays so you lie backwards on the walkway, lean back as far as you can go holding on to 2 iron railings and kiss the stone. Thankfully there is a man there to help – I say help, what I really mean is he’s there to hold on to you so you can’t fall through the gaps and career towards a hideous death. Ok, maybe that isn’t quite the case but it doesn’t stop you thinking it!

I clung on, I leant back, I was told to go lower, I went lower and I KISSED THE STONE!

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Obviously, my main thought on the way up was how the hell am I going to get back down again?  With hindsight, I wasn’t thinking straight (and who can blame me!?) because I failed to notice that no-one was coming down. Thankfully and much to my relief, I discovered there was another way down and it was far easier. The following morning my legs were achy. I reckon the whole time I was in the castle my legs were tense!


Dublin and on to Cork

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So having just been at Boxty’s and enjoying a lovely brunch with lush Irish Coffees we headed towards Merrion Square to see all the paintings that artists hang on the railings every Sunday from 10am til 6.30pm. It’s a great way to pass some time on a Sunday – especially when you need to walk off a full Irish breakfast! However, before we managed to get to the square, OH needed the loo so we had to find a pub quite quickly. Funny how he never needs the loo when there aren’t any pubs in sight. Oh wait a minute. He does. I take that back – I just remembered how many country lanes I’ve had to find at short notice when I’m driving! Anyway, on the same side of the road as we were walking I could see a pub called Foley’s. Another traditional Irish bar I thought. Perfect I thought. Disappointed I was.

We were greeted at the door by a Chinese waitress. I said we were just in for drinks and she pointed towards high stools at the window. The place was deserted other than a family in the corner having lunch. OH went to the loo and I ordered drinks from a different Chinese woman (perhaps her sister). Thankfully it was just a loo stop as I didn’t want to stay any longer in the unwelcoming pub.  I have to say, it was the worst one we were in during our entire trip (and we were in some weird and wonderful ones!) so we hurried our drinks, made our excuses and left. 2014-03-23 15.02.13-1

From there we wandered around the square enjoying the artist’s work and commenting all the different multi-coloured doorways that surround the square. After admiring the art we retraced our steps and found O’Donoghues which, considering it was right across the road from Foley’s, was jumping!  Apparently The Dubliners used to play here (their pics were everywhere).  We struggled to get a seat as they had live music on but managed eventually. From what I could see it was a number of different people that had just turned up with their instrument or voice for a bit of a jam session. They all politely took turns. Sometimes someone would join in and accompany the singer; at other times it was just one beautiful voice that could be heard. The atmosphere was everything you wanted in an Irish bar.

2014-03-23 15.03.26After a while we decided to head back to the hotel to put our feet up for a wee while. Now I’m not sure if OH really
does always need a loo stop or if it’s just an excuse for another pint but regardless, we soon found ourselves in Flannery’s of Camden Street…

…eventually back at the hotel I was allowed to put my feet up but then it was time to freshen up as OH wanted to go back out again. We made it as far as the The Bleeding Horse (yes the pub next door if you remember yesterday’s adventures). The bar was full of good looking Spanish people watching the Real Madrid v Barcelona match so again the bar had a great atmosphere. We also met a wee Irish man who chatted away grand style and gave us tips where to stop off for something to eat on our way to Cork. It wasn’t until we looked at the map the following morning that we realised where he was recommending was heading west on the2014-03-23 14.58.50-1 way to Galway!  Not sure if he was being stereo-typically Irish or thinking we were daft Scots that would just follow his directions 🙂

Obviously we didn’t follow his route but picked up the hire car and headed south towards the 2nd biggest city in the state instead. We arrived in Cork and without too many wrong turns found the Clarion Hotel and parked beneath it.   As we made our way to our room we were astounded by the large golden balls 2014-03-24 15.29.27hanging from the ceiling over the foyer which looked amazing. However, when we got to our room we soon realised that our view was of the balls rather than a view of the river. It’s funny how quickly you miss seeing what the weather is like when you don’t have an outside view. The room was air conditioned but I also  know now that I’d rather be able to open a window than twist a knob or press a button.  Apart from that the room was great – it even had free biscuits!!

It wasn’t long before we were out and exploring the city centre, which is located between two channels of the River Lee, which kind of means it’s on an island. The 2 busy streets were St Patricks Street, which is the main shopping thoroughfare and Oliver Plunkett Street, which is full of places to eat as well as shops.

Before arriving in Cork I had looked up different pubs and restaurants in the area and one that had caught my eye was Arthur Maynes because it looked so intriguing. The building is a 120 year old pharmacy turned into a wine bar.  I hadn’t noted down the address but we managed to find it before we enjoyed too many other Cork bars ;p 2014-03-24 17.06.33

When we walked in through the front door we couldn’t believe it. It was like walking into a chemist’s shop rather than a restaurant or bar. Saying that, we were greeted warmly and asked if we wanted a table. We were offered the chance to chose our seats so opted for a candle lit room with only a few other tables. The menu was rich and varied and offered a list of dishes a2014-03-24 17.18.03s well as risotto and mussels of the day. OH decided to go for the king prawn risotto (he checked to make sure they were already shelled before ordering) and I went fo2014-03-24 17.18.17r fresh market mussels in a black pudding broth served with soda bread.

The surroundings, the atmosphere, the candle light, the service and the wine were all perfect. There were 2 woman sitting at a nearby table speaking French which also added to the unique ambiance. OH says the risotto he had was the best risotto he had ever had and now wants to eat more risotto. My mussels were good – 3 or 4 I couldn’t open so left and there was no doubting that it was in a black pudding broth. However, it was too rich for me and although I really enjoyed it, the broth didn’t like me so much.

2014-03-24 18.08.39 2014-03-24 18.08.59This is probably the wrong time to mention it but the toilets were amazing! I just had to take pics to show you the display cabinet and sink. It was like going back in time. Or going for a wazz in a museum exhibit by mistake ;p Gawd I hope they were usable toilets!

Even the outside bit was great. Smokers get treated so well in Ireland! Between Mayne’s  and the pub next door was a heated seating area where all the addicted people sat. Honestly, it makes you want to join them. There was even an old fashioned photo booth. No gimmicky pics taken with One Direction or crap like that. Just black and white pics like the good old days.2014-03-24 17.08.572014-03-24 17.08.45

OH and I had to get our photos  taken and when we showed mini-me she said, “Awww you look like 2 teenagers in love”.