Impressions of Ireland

"If you could drink dreams like the Irish streams
Then the world would be high as the mountain of morn

In the Pool they told us the story

How the English divided the land..."

- John Lennon, "The Luck of the Irish" (song)

It was our first trip to Ireland; our first time to experience a land that is half of Chris’ heritage. With a name like “McCoy,” it is impossible to live in Europe without a trip to Ireland! The trip was fairly last minute, so we had little time to plan or research; basically we just threw clothes into a suitcase and headed to the Budapest airport. Chris’ company has it’s European headquarters in Dunboyne, Ireland and Stamford, England, and both locations were in our 11-day-itinerary.
I was in a sundress and Chris in a light polo and shorts when we disembarked the plane in Ireland. From that point on, we were cold. Serbia had been about 30 degrees Celsius (86 Degrees Ferenheit) and in a matter of 4 hours, the temperature had gone from shorts-weather to coats-and-scarves-weather. So much for the three pairs of shorts that I had packed!
The driver dropped us off at Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa in the quaint city of Dunboyne, Ireland. Even these pictures of the castle do not do it justice!
This is the entrance to Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.
Almost every evening there was some sort of event going on here. From weddings, to prom, to soccer conventions. People from all over the country pick this place for the magnificent scenery and outstanding service.

There were loads of walking trails around the castle, and this was just hidden away in the woods. I felt like I had stumbled upon a secret garden.
This is one picture of the Spa. It was so lavish, and people visit the hotel specifically for the wide assortment of treatments. It was a stunning place and I felt so lucky to stay in such an amazing hotel. During the afternoon, while Chris was working, I busied myself with my Serbian studying, the gym, and exploring Dunboyne.

There are only about 5,000 people in the Dunboyne, so in a matter of an hour, I had seen all of the back alleys and hidden corners of the city. It is a cute town with several pubs and spendy restaurants.
My initial impression of Ireland was that the culture was not as warm as that of Serbia - literally and figuratively. There were no cafes in Dunboyne, and no one sat outside and socialized for hours on end. We found Chris' co-workers to be very accommodating and friendly, but random strangers didn't seem to go out of their way to greet a new face. I am always reminded of something that my dad used to say to me when discussing cultural differences. He would say, "Honey, now there are always differences in every culture, but strive to see the beautiful characteristics in ever culture and in every person for that matter. And remember, It may be different, but that does not mean it's wrong."
In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about Ireland is the importance of stories. Over the weekend, Chris' co-worker, Mr. Russell, offered to take us around the Irish countryside and show us some of his favorite sites. From the moment we closed the car doors, Mr. Russell started recounting the history of Ireland. He knew so much about his country, and I was convicted that I had not retained much from my American history classes. He said that he grew up with colorful bedtime stories about Ireland. The verbal storytelling tradition is still very alive, and he does not need a history book or the internet to remember his dates and facts; it is all from memory.
Our first stop was to the City of Trim in the County of Meath. As we walked along the Boyne River, Mr. Russell told as all about the castle which is Western Europe's largest Norman castle and it was constructed in the 12th century following the Norman invasion of Ireland. It is thought that the city of Trim may have been founded in the 5th century.
The tall structure in the picture above is the remains of St. Mary's Abbey in Trim, Ireland. According to tradition, the Abbey was founded by St. Patrick and later destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.
Chris and our wonderful and knowledgable guide, Mr. Russell. This is Trim Castle - the castle was most notably used in the filming of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart."
Jump in front of the "Braveheart" Castle!
We went into the castle and walked around the grounds. This picture shows what would have been the main dining room for the royal family and knights. Mr. Russell told us that Trim Castle had never been heavily attacked so most of the structure is surprisingly still in-tact.
Our second destination was to see The Hill of Tara. Mr. Russell said that this is one of the most important sites to the Irish people. The Hill of Tara is best known as the high seat of the kings of Ireland, and relics have been found that make some archeologists believe that The Hill of Tara may have been an important site since the late stone age.
You will probably get sick of our jumping pictures, but we love them, so you'll see more! This is Lia Fail (the Stone of Destiny), and kings used to put their hand on the stone as they were being crowned. According to legend, the stone would scream as the to-be-king laid his hand on it.

Okay - here is a serious picture. The stone did not scream, so neither of as are "kingly."

As we were leaving The Hill of Tara, we stopped to watch a falcon demonstration. Pretty interesting!

Our final destination was to the passage tomb at Newgrange. This particular tomb is said to be 5000 years old, and it was constructed in such a way that during the winter solstice, the passage way is illuminated for only 17 minutes. The rest of the year, it sits in complete darkness. There is so much history and story telling that surround this site, and we were so lucky to see it in person. If you want to read more about Newgrange, I found this great link.
Chris and I also spent a day in Dublin while we were in Ireland, but I will save those stories and pictures for the next blog. Thanks for reading!
"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth and you get neither."
- C. S. Lewis (my favorite author was born in Ireland)


Parade Pictures!

This will be a short post because Chris and I are about to drive to Budapest. From Budapest we will fly to Dublin, Ireland and be there for 5 days. From Ireland we will fly into London for another 5 days. Chris has to spend some time at the European headquarters for work, and I get to tag along! Yeahhh!! I am so excited. I plan on exploring and taking loads of pictures while he is working, and then we will explore together in the evenings.
I promised pictures from the Duzijanca Parade on Sunday afternoon, and I am sorry that the past few days have been so busy. Our boxes finally arrived from America, and Chris and I started Serbian lessons, so we have both been busy. His with work, and me with coffee dates and sorting our belongings.

So, without further delay, here are a few pictures from the parade!

Lela and her friend, Stela, dressed me up in the dress of the Serbian ethnic minority. This was often only worn by young, unmarried women, but since I look like a 12 year old with my hair pulled back, I guess I fit the bill. Ohh, we all laughed because these dresses are designed to make you look pregnant with a huge booty!
The sweet young dancers. 
I love the wall in this picture, and you can see the entire outfit. The details are amazing on all of the clothing. Everything is hand sewn and it takes hours to complete one dress.

I took this picture to give you an idea of how many people participate in the parade. There must have been several thousand people dressed up in Serbian cultural attire. Everyone is invited to walk in the parade if they have an appropriate outfit. If you are not walking in the parade, then you are lined up on the streets waving wheat or clapping.

The girls! Stela, on the left, did my hair and helped with my makeup.

Some of these costumes are over 100 years old! The colorful vests that the men are wearing are very old - but well preserved. There is a seamstress who is employed by the dance company to repair and wash all of these stunning outfits.

Just in case I forget that I am super short!
Here we are. Lela and Darko said that I was probably the first American to ever walk in this parade. I felt so honored!

This is everyone from the Dance company - Mladost (the youth) - that walked in the parade.

People eating and enjoying traditional Serbian music. I think the entire city was out and about enjoying the festivities! It was so fun! I loved being part of the 100 year anniversary of Duzijanca.

Have a lovely week friends and family!


Dibonis Winery and Duzijanca.

These "Duzijanca" garlands of wheat can be seen all over the city.

Our weekend started Thursday evening with the opening of “Duzijanca” (pronounced doozh-ee-yan-ka). Marko and Lela met us for drinks and explained that “Duzijanca” was the festival of the first harvest, and it was a very important time of celebration for the Serbians. This year marked the 100-year anniversary of the festival, so it was an extra special time for us to experience Serbia.

We moved from a little café into the city centre where the festival was taking shape. As the sun set on Subotica, the beginning of the festival was announced, stage lights flooded the square with a warm, inviting glow, folk music filled the air, wine and beer vendors started taking orders, chairs were filled with the elderly and children started to dance to the traditional sounds of Serbia.

Marko ordered a Serbian dish for us to share –four different preparations of pork. Pork on a stick, pork hot-dogs, ground pork, and succulent bacon. Hmmmm yummy! I didn’t know that pork could be prepared so many different ways, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

As we bid Marko and Lela good-night (Laku noc – in Serbian), Lela reminded us that on Saturday, her folklore group would dance during the Duzijanca festivities. We promised that we would not miss it.

On Friday evening, our friends from Senta, David and Attila, planned a special wine-tasting and tour for us at Dibonis Winery. We really had no idea what to expect but David assured us that would be "shocked." We drove about 4 miles out of Subotica's city limits and turned into Dibonis Winery. I looked everywhere for the vines, but all that I could see were fruit trees. I later learned that the vines were a few miles away, and we were just at the tasting room and restaurant.

The wine maker - nicknamed "Lotty" - greeted us warmly. His tanned skin and deep smile lines made me think that he must have spent years tending the grapes in the hot sun. . . all the while smiling because he loved his job and adored his wine. Lotty spoke only Hungarian and Serbian so David translated for us as we walked into the fermentation building that housed about 15 of his wines.

We tasted about 8 wines straight out of the fermenters, and Lotty lovingly described every single one. All that I could think was, "Man! I want this job!"

On the way to the next part of our tour, David proudly pointed out all of the awards that Lotty had won for his wine and palinka. Palinka is sort of a brandy that is distilled with fresh fruit. In Serbia and surrounding countries, it is customary to begin and end a meal with a shot of palinka.

The next part of the tour took us into the barrel room. Lotty explained that he experimented with putting the same wine in American and Hungarian oak barrels, and he wanted us to determine which was our favorite.

In this picture you can see how Lotty is taking wine out of the barrels for us to taste. This was such a fun experience, and honestly, his wines were some of the best I have ever had.

It seemed that every wine Lotty poured was better than the last. I found that I stayed true to my taste because I loved the pinot noir that was aged in American oak. Chris preferred the same wine aged in Hungarian oak.

As we headed to dinner at Lotty's restaurant "Shiraz," I discovered the best part of the tour - the wine cellar! Apparently we can even have our own wine-locker here!

We ended the tour with a fabulous dinner. Thank you David and Attila for introducing us to Lotty and Dibonis Winery. We will most definitely be back - often!

Once Saturday evening rolled around, Chris and I made our way back to the city centre for more Duzijanca festivities. The evening was dedicated to showcasing the Serbian folklore dances, and we were most excited to see Lela and her group. It seems that everyone in Subotica was outside enjoying good food and the music of their history. I really loved every single moment of it.

These "circle" dances are typical in the Balkan region and in a lot of Slavic cultures. Lela's friend, Darko (the assistant choreographer for her dance group), explained that these dances are symbolic of community and living in harmony.

This is Lela's group performing. Their outfits are from central Serbia. They are so beautiful and colorful. I have this dance filmed, and I will try to post it eventually.

Lela and Marko.
At the end of the evening, Lela and Darko asked if I wanted to walk in the Duzijanca parade on Sunday. The parade wraps up the festival and everyone in the town is invited to participate if they have a traditional Serbian outfit. Darko said that I could wear an outfit from the dance studio, and that I would be the first American to ever walk in the Duzijanca parade. Of course I said YES!

I will write about the parade tomorrow!


Marko and Lela

We have been in Serbia for 16 days already!

On one hand, it seems like time has flown, and on the other, it feels like we have been here for several months. Typically it takes a good amount of time to feel "at home" in a new place, and we feel like we were instantly accepted and invited into the Serbian culture. Before leaving the USA, I told everyone that, "I am so excited for this new adventure, and we plan on making the most of our time in Europe, but I expect the transition to be difficult at times." Fortunately, that has not been our experience at all - in fact, it has been such a smooth transition, that I find the only things I truly miss are my family, friends, and zip-lock bags.
Perhaps we feel so comfortable here because of Marko and Lela,
and maybe they're the Serbian friends that Chris and
I diligently prayed for.

This past Sunday afternoon, Chris and I spent 7 hours at Plato Books, the cafe and bookstore that is directly under our apartment. We wrote and read for an hour or so, and then we met Marko. Marko works at Plato Books, and you cannot miss his infectious smile and friendly nature. He introduced us to Milorad - his coworker and good friend - and he spoke about Serbia with such patriotism and excitement. Lucky for us, Sundays are slow at his cafe, so he was able to spend most of his shift entertaining American strangers. I feel like we quickly became friends, and he said he would love to help us with the Serbian language, and of course we offered to help him with English. His English is wonderful already, but he insists he must perfect it. Towards the end of the evening, we met Marko's beautiful girlfriend, Lela, and we set up a double-dinner-date for Tuesday.

This is Marko and Lela - at Plato Books, naturally! Although there are so many cafes in Subotica, I think that we have found our favorite already!

On Tuesday, Marko and Lela took us to one of their favorite restaurants called Battez. (I am sure I spelled it wrong!)

All of the food is from the Vojvodina Region in Serbia. This is the region that Subotica is in. We were so happy to try local food. Lela was shocked at how huge her portion was. She had beef that had been hammered out until it was thin and fried. It reminded me of a dish baba and mom used to make with chicken.

Look at our feast!! Marko, Chris and I enjoyed two different types of local "goulash." It all was so wonderful, but it was so much food!

Can you see us behind all of that food?! We had such a good evening - and time passed so quickly that we accidentally stayed a half hour after the restaurant closed. Ops! I hope the server was not too upset. Thank you Marko and Lela for taking us to our first REAL Serbian meal.
The past two mornings, I've met Lela at Plato Books for coffee and good conversation. She is a student, and since fall classes have not started, she has a little bit of free time on her hands. I bring my Serbian language book and read to her and she corrects my (often Russian) pronunciation, and she is able to practice her English with me. It has been great to share coffee with a friend! I love that in Serbia, it is typical and acceptable to drink 2-4 cups of coffee a day - often with different friends!

This morning, Marko was working, and he asked if I would like to look at a Serbian picture book. Below is the book that Marko brought for me to look through. Lela sweetly explained every picture and region pictured in this book.

"Serbia - at the Source" This outfit is a typical outfit from central Serbia. I am so excited because Lela is in a dance troop that performs Serbian dances. We will see one of her performances on Saturday.

I just wanted to share a few of the beautiful pictures in this book. Once Lela and I were through looking at all of the pictures, Marko insisted that I take the book and share it with Chris. He bought the book to welcome us to Serbia. I wish that you could meet the Serbian people - they are some of the most warm and hospitable people. There is a saying in Serbia that goes something like this, "Even if people have little money, they will still find enough money to go out to coffee and treat their friends."

I have already found this to be so true. People give so much - even if they have little.