A-Z of low cal heroes

Low calorie (and low carb) foods that I rely on when I’m watching the calories and carbs eg on the 5:2 or Fast 800 approaches.  Inspired by my friend Helen’s A-Z of  Scottish Dancing, here’s my list of foods I find help me enjoy cooking and eating this way.

A- Anchovies.  Yes, those wee fish you find on pizzas.  A few snipped into a salad add a real salty tang, as well as a hit of protein.

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B- Bovril.  Although I don’t eat meat I’m not a strict vege (or pesce-) tarian, and a mug of Bovril is very satisfying when hunger pangs strike. A 12g spoonful is 17 cals, and 4g of protein.

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C- Cottage cheese.  A useful non-egg breakfast, I like a spoonful of this with radishes, cucumber or tomato, and a sprinkle of za’atar (see later)

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D- dulse.  This dried seaweed is a bit of an Irish seaside tradtion, but Belfast wans can get it in Sawyers or greengrocers. Chewy and salty with a hint of the ocean, it packs a few useful vitamins as well,  Try it as an alternative to nori or other seaweeds in miso soup (see later) or a Bhudda Bowl.

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E – eggplant, or aubergine.  Very useful in making dips like baba ganosh, or cut into steaks and spread with miso (see later) paste as a “steak”.  Essential element of ratatouille, or as caponata.

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F- Frozen berries.  I try not to have too much fruit, but once a week or so I’ll make overnight oats or chia pots.  Mixed berries keep well in the freezer, and are ideal for this.  If added to the dish the night before they will have defrosted by morning.

G – Greek Yoghurt.  There is always a vigourous debate on social media about the “best” or “right” Greek yoghurt to get, unsurprising given the wide variety of natural, plain, Greek, Greek-style, Skyr etc available.  Check the label, avoid extra additives,  and don’t go for low-fat.

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H – Herbal teas.  I surf through the day on water (see later) black coffee, and herbal teas,  I keep a little “lucky dip” carousel at work, but the Yogi Choc flavour is heavenly when you need a hit of chocolate.

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I – Itsu brand.  Miso soup (see later) is a great standby for light lunches or quick pick-m-ups.  I like this brand, at 21 cals per sachet.

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J – jackfruit.  As a not-quite-vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for ways to add more variety.  Jackfruit, available in cans, make a good sturdy textured addition to curries and stews.

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K – Konjac noodles.  Substiture noodles, pasta and rice made from konjac root are sold under names like Slim or Naked.  They are not to everyone’s taste, some say they taste like rubber bands, and can have a  fishy odour when the sachet is opened, but when well rinsed they can have the right look and feel.

L – lemon and lime.  Always in my fridge, add a slice of either to hot or cold water, squeeze over salads or in stirfries.  Keep some wedges in the freezer to add instead of an ice cube to cold drinks.

M – miso soup.  You can buy sachets to which you just add hot water, or make your own with miso paste.  I like to make a “fully loaded” version with thinly sliced mushooms, cubes of tofu, beansprouts, spring onions, and a sprinkle of dulse (see above).

N – nuts.  Useful for ading a wee bit of protein, though not as much as some people believe.  Cashews are great in stir fries, walnuts are lovely with a bit of blue cheese, and almonds have a satisfying crunch.

O – Olive oil.  The best oil to use.  I also use coconut oil, and locally grown rapeseed.

P – prawns. These pack an amazing protein to calorie ratio, are great hot or cold, in spicy dishes or in cool salads.  I try to keep frozen raw prawns as a freezer standby, they can be defrosting under cold running water.

Q – quinoa. I cut right back on cereals and grains, but quinoa has protein content as well, and cooks in 15 mintues.

R – rainbow.  Eat the rainbow!  Aim to get a range of colourful foods, like beetroot, peppers, courgettes, cauliflower, tomatoes.

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S – spices are key to maing food tasty.  And don’t underestimate the importance of Sleep.

T – Trout, Tuna, Tofu.  Great protein sources.  I prefer smoked trout to salmon, it is tastier and has slightly fewer calories.

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U – Un-alcoholic drinks.  Ok I know that’s not a real word!  There’s a great many not-gins on the market at the minute, add a frozen lime wedge and a diet tonic to a large glass and you’ll not feel you are missing out at all.

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V- vegetables.  Eat lots of them, especially those that grow above the ground.  Spinach, pak choi, broccoli, mushrooms, and salad veg like tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, are always in my veg drawer.  And onions!  But no potatoes.

W – water. Drink lots of water.  I aim for 2l a day, and try to keep a bottle by me at all times.  First thing in the morning, start with a  large glass.

X – F.U.N.E.X? S, V.F.X.  So goes the old Two Ronnies sketch, and S, I always have a plentiful supply of X.  I go for large free-range, local if possible.  I probably eat at least one a day, love a quick scramble with whatever veggies are about for breakfast.  My Sunday standard breakfast is a soft boiled egg with asparagus dippers, and I usually boil a couple of extras to have during the week.  I’ll also whip up a a batch of fritattas with eggs, cheese, and veg – spinach, cooked cauli, spring onions, roast peppers, olives.  They make a handy portable late breakfast to have at work, and can be frozen.

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Y – Yukata, is another brand I like for miso soups, sushi ginger, and other Asian ingredients.

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Z – za-atar, one of my favourite spice mixes to sprinkle on scrambled egg, soups, or cottage cheese.

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Jackfruit Curry

Low calorie, low carb, vegetarian or vegan.

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I’m always keen to try new foods and recipes, and I was intrigued by jackfruit, which is getting used in many vegetarian meals these days.  It’s most often seen as some sort of BBQ pulled dish, which I don’t care for.  So I made a curry instead.

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Ingredients:

1 tin jackfruit

1 onion (80-100g)

1 red pepper (100g)

100g button mushrooms, quartered

1 tin tomatoes

1 tsp coconut oil

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Curry spice – I used garlic paste from a tube, a tsp of chillies from a jar, turmeric, ground coriander, and cos I had them, curry leaves,  I also threw in a cinnamon stick and a star anise.

Sweat the finely chopped onion in the coconut oil until translucent.

Add the diced red peppers, and continue to cook on a low heat, covered, for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and stir everything well together.

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Add in the curry spices and stir well.

Add the tinned tomatoes, and give everything a good stir.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer while you prep the rice.

Coconut Lime Cauli-rice

For each serving:

150g cauliflower florets, grated.  I use my special cauli Iron Maiden.

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Melt a tbsp coconut oil in a frying pan and add the cauli rice, stirring to get it covered in the oil.  Let it cook gently for 5-8 minutes, until itstarts to get a bit nutty.  Add salt and pepper, and half a lime squeezed.  I threw in some chopped parsley from my gardon for colour. Add in some grated coconut (10g)

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Serve with a blob of yoghurt (or vegan alternative) and a sprinkle of coriander leaves.

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I got 3 “my size” servings from this, 300 cals with the rice, but it would make 2 generous portions.

Note: I like the jars of easy chilli.  It’s easy to control the heat of the end result, as opposed to actual chillies.  When the jar is empty, I half fill it with water, give a good shake, and used that chill flavoured liquid to add a kick to soups, stews etc.

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Athlone

Waving a fond farewell to Tralee, we set off for the town at Ireland’s centre, Athlone.

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This wasn’t a straight motorway route, so we stopped off at a Spar in Borrisokane for a bag of crisps and bottle of water (no loos).  Tractors a-plenty in this part of the world!

There were roadworks in town, and the sat-nav decided we should not under any circumstances take the N52.  I wasn’t going to argue, the smaller roads were pleasant to drive along.

Shortly after lunch, we arrived at our home for the night, the Athlone Springs Hotel.  It’s on teh edge of town, so no aimless wandering to be enjoyed, but it DOES have a gym and a pool.  We booked a slot for a dip at 3.30.  You have to book to ensure social distancing, the steam room and sauna were not in use, and there were increased chemicals in the jacuzzi, which my eyes complained about.  But I managed a good few lengths, it’s been quite a while since I’ve swum!

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As part of the relaxation of regulations, outdoor weddings can now take place with a numbers limit, and we were able to watch procedings from out our window.  But the room had no air-con (although there was a fan cooler) and so it wasn’t as relaxing as it might have been .

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We had booked a dinner slot for 6.30, and chatted beforehand to a family from Dundalk, comparing the joys of staycationing.IMG_3820For dinner I had mushroom soup and brown bread which was delicious.  The only veggie main was a stirfry with rice, which was OK, rather spicy and far too much.

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep with the fan going all night, but I couldn’t hear any wedding noises.

The breakfast hot and cold buffet were dished out by a member of staff.  I had some grapefruit segments, followed by scrambled egg and mushroom.

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Into Athlone,  we parked by the castle, across the road from Saints Peter and Paul chuch with its twin towers, and set of for some very pleasant aimless wandering.  The town is on the river Shannon, at quite a wide point, and there is plenty of activity on the water, including a lock.

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IMG_3840It’s also home to what claims to be Ireland’s oldest bar, sadly of course closed these days.

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We walked all the way round the barracks, and Count John McCormack’s statue.

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The names of some of the shops were reminiscent of Handmaid’s Tale, and there seemed to be many Thai restaurants and meditation retreats.

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It’s a charming town, well worth spending some time in, and it does make a great stopover destination.

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Tralee

After the Cliffs , we were back at the Ballygarry House Hotel, one of our favourite spots. Our stay included one evening meal, but the restaurant wasn’t open till Wednesday. So we booked a table for then, and tonight (Monday) ate in the brasserie.  I had the veggie curry, which was rather heavy on bell peppers.

There is a lovely spa at the hotel, but during the ongoing restructions they have a limit on the number of clients they can have, and what treatments are on offer.  I’d missed out on booking something in time on our previous trip, so I was looking forward to my back massage later today.  So with the morning free we headed into Tralee for a bit of a potter around.

I found a colourful Billabong skirt in a charity shop, and we had a mooch around the fine grey stone courthouse.  We also booked a dinner reervation in the Ashe Hotel just as a change of scene.

There was a sale on in Mountain Warehouse, and I found a great relaxed easy care dress WITH POCKETS that I loved.  So I bought it in 3 colourways.

From there we walked around Tralee town park, on what turned out to be the parkrun route!  There is a sundial dedicated to Neil Armstrong, who’d once trod these paths, and of course many Rose of Tralee related things to look at and admire.  Back in 2002 when I was in Luxembourg, it was decided to inaugurate a Lux Rose competition, and I had some peripheral connection (tap dancing at the Rose Ball, Jemima Irish dancing in a display, my good pal Anne-Marie being one of the contestants). 

So it was with a wistful smile and fond memories of bygone times that I read down the names of the roses from around the world.  No competition this year, a huge loss to the town, and yet another indicator of just what a ubiquitous impact Covid was exerting.

Time for my spa!  I had my temperature checked and filled out a detailed form.  Then I had some time to soak up the rare sunshine in the open air hot tub.  The spa provided a pair of disposable knickers for me to change into, though it took a while to work out which way round they went.  My masseuse worked wonders on my knotty shoulders, and I relaxed in the chill out zone for a while.

Back at our room, I had no key with me, could hear the TV going, but there was no answer to my knocking.  I still had the spa-undies on, though thankfully with a coverall beach dress over them, and I was clutching a plastic bag with my wet swimsuit.  Not really how I wanted to start a search of the hotel looking for R and the key!  When I found him on the terasse, he hadn’t a key with him!  Luckliy reception had a spare, and I was able to dry off properly, change into something more fitting before pretending I was in France and sipping a cocktail on the sun-filled terasse.

Wearing one of my new mountain warehouse dresses, we rang a taxi to take us into town, and the very friendly Albert arrived. 

At the Ashe, I ordered the fish special, which was hake with a sun-dried tomato tapenade, and absolutely delicious.  We went for a bit of a stroll after dinner, before calling Albert again to take us home.  Times were tough he confided.  No Roses, no ‘merican tourists, and no students.

Back at the hotel, I wandered the grounds enjoying the sunset before retiring.

Wednesday was the day we had set aside for doing the Slea Head Drive, and I’d been anxiously checking weather forecasts for over a week.  I needn’t have worried, we had blue sky and sunshine all the way.  After a breakfast of porridge with the hotel’s own honey I donned another of my new dresses and off we set.  Past the Blennerville windmill, and into a Dingle traffic jam.

First stop was Castlegregory Beach.  There is a good car park here, and some clean loos.  Which probably explains why most of the carpark was taken up by motorhomes, in spite of the sign banning them.  The bay is calm, though a little rocky, but seemed popular with swimmers and dog walkers.

Next, the Connor Pass!  No trucks or buses allowed, however there were loads of cyclists.  Is there a special cerfickatick they get for plodding all the way up here?

At the viewpoint there were great views in both directions – back down to Castlegregory to the north, with Mount Brandon brooding over it, and down to the picturesque Dingle to the south.  We swooped down into the town, had a minor kerfuffle finding the right road to the centre, but found a great parking spot by the church, which is free, and in easy walking distance of the the town and the harbour.

We stolled downhill, past the long queue outside the coffee shop – that must be some special brew!  After an ice-cream and short look at some tweed jackets, our next destination was the Ryan’s Daughter beach.  Given the sunny day, that seemed to be the destination of about a billion other people also.  The small car park at the top of the path was jam packed, and cars were parked right down the laneway onto the beach. 

Manoevering around was extremely stressful, and I left R to be amused by the attempts to get up and down, while climbed up Dumore Head, the most westerly point of the mainland.  It’s a specacular view, looking out towards the Blaskets, no wonder it was used for some of the filming of Star Wars.

Carrying on round the drive, our next stop was the fairly new Blasket Centre, and its brand new viewing platform.  When seen from above, this viewpoint is the wiggly W of the WAW sign.  There is also a stunning stained glass window in the centre itself, depicting various aspects of life on the islands.

Saw no dolphins.

The hills on Sybill Head look like solid waves as you approach, and are called the three sisters.

We stopped at abillboard advertised cafe-pottery, only to find the cafe closed and the pottery overpriced.  We should have stopped in Ballyferriter, I’m sure I saw Darth Vadar and Yoda standing ouside a pub!

The hotel has bicycles for use by residents, so we had a few laughs as we made our way to the nearby Ballyseedy Wood.  Thank goodness we both managed to stay upright.

Back at the hotel, we changed for our special dinner in the main restaurant, which was wonderful.

There was heavy rain overnight, but it eased by about 8, so I got into my running gear, and R took me into Tralee town park to do a freedom parkrun.  It’s a nice route, not too hilly, and I’m realiably informed the team here are great, so I’ll look forward to the day when I can run it for real.

Back at the hotel for a late breakfast of chia seed pot, and eggs benedict with no ham.  Then it was time to pack, and head off to the next leg.

 

Cliffs of Moher and more

 

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Always happy with a map in my hand

The next stage of our trip was to pick up the Wild Atlantic Way and head south.  Two years ago we had done the WAW from Sligo as far down as Galway, so it was good to be taking the next part of it.

After breakfast we compared maps and sat navs.  We wanted to take the ferry-to-Kerry, to cut out going through Limerick, and I discovered it was slightly cheaper if we booked online. (18-90 for a car) But we had to persuade the sat nav that we didn’t want to go straight there, but rather take the very scenic coastal route.

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After driving round the bare grey rocks of the Burren, we stopped for a leg stretch at Bishops Quarter beach, which seemed a very calm bay popular with swimmers.  I could see that the sat nav then wanted to take us inland to the cliffs (huh?) while I wanted to hug the WAW.  R agreed to take my suggestion, which I think he regretted the whole rest of the way, as the roads were very narrow indeed, and oncoming vehicles didn’t always pull over where they could.  So the air was blue, but oh my, the views were just breathtaking!  The Aran islands basking in a vivid blue sea, the sun glinting on the waves.  After we turned a corner, there were the cliffs, brown sheer drops bordered by green at the top and blue below. And there was the odd compulsory WAW point for me to try and fail to get the full name in.

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We had booked entrance tickets in advance, and enjoyed a look around the visitor exhibition, using the clean loos, and having a cooling ice cream.

It’s a bit of a walk to the various viewing points, and there are quite a few steps to climb.  There are marked busking points along the way, and there were a variety of musicians playing away.  Although the weather was warm and sunny, it was a little hazy, and I couldn’t quite make out the Kerry mountains to the south or the Twelve Pins to the north.

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As well as the usual tourist gifts in the visitor centre, there are a few more shops near by, including aran jumpers, musical instruments, and jewellry.  I fell in love with a set of items created by a local designer, whose sister was the sales assistant.  They were inspired by the colours of the WAW, and used three different blue stones: agate for the ruggedness of the coast, larimar for the ocean, and topaz for the sky.  I took my time decididng which piece to buy.  I asked the assistant how they were surviving in these unusual times.  She shook her had sadly and said “Normally at this time of year there would be 10 coaches of Americans parked outside.”

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I took time to be thankful that there weren’t huge crowds around, I’m not great in very busy spots.

We waved goodbye and put in the co-ords for the ferry.  Again, I wanted to stick to the WAW, while Sally Satnav kept wanting to take us inland, on more minor roads.  Our eta was just after 2, and as the ferry departed every hour on the hour, we were not expecting to catch that one.  But we pulled up to Killimer dock just as they were finishing boarding, and a crew member motioned us on baord, and to the head of one of the lanes.  The boat cast off straight away, but so smooth was it that R didn’t acutally realise we were moving.  Coronoavirus notices advised everyone to stay inside their vehicles, though not everyone obeyed that instruction.  I had the ticket as a barcode on my phone ready to be scanned, hands free.

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Saw no dolphins.

The queue at Tarbert to go the other direction seemed much longer that ours.  We were reminded that there are many Tarberts in Scotland also – I think the name means something to do with fish, and they are all ports.

The journey from there to Tralee was unremarkable – we went inland rather than yet more coastal driving, and soon were back at the Ballygarry House Hotel, which we’d enjoyed so much on a recent visit , that one of the first things we did when we got home was to book this return trip.

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This time, we were taking advantage of a special offer that was 2 nights for the price of 3, and included one dinner and a welcoming prosecco cocktail!  R only likes drinks that start with S, end in F, and have a mirno in the middle, so, both for me!  In my matching frock and all!

 

 

Galway

You say staycation, I say holidays in Ireland.

Covid restirctions mean that far flung travel is still fraught with difficulties.  Many countries are on the quarantine list, and more can be added literally overnight.  Take into the mix the health risks of flying, and who wants to go on a cruise these days, means that holidaying closer to home becomes even more attractive.

I’d tried and failed to visit Galway previously, so I was really excited to be starting our trip in the City of Tribes.

The journey took about 4 hours on good motorways.  We did stop at a service station which was in Kildare, and as it was one of the counties that had recently been put under more restrictions, I wondered if this would apply here.  But it was open,  I was surrpised that the food outlets were still operating, including the touch screen ordering at Burger King.  And eat-in was an option.  It’s amazing how my brain now picks up things like hand sanitiser stations, supervision of numbers on-site, one-way social distancing flows……..or the lack of same.

Our destination was the Harbour Hotel, right by the marina, which was very well located, and had ample car parking at the rear.  My map reading and the sat nav instructions were in agreement, tourist maps and leaflets acquired, and we were soon heading out for our first wander around.  Plenty of covid-conspiracy grafitti.

Pubs that don’t serve food are still closed, and other cafes and restaurants either have a queue to get a table, or you need to book in advance.  We decided to reserve a table in the hotel restaurant tonight, rather than run into difficulties finding somewhere in town.  The only spot they had was at 5.30.  As my friend Sarah would say, “Norn Irn tea time!”

We strolled past the large (and smelly) boats in the harbour, and found that the gate at the far side was closed.  R leaped over the fence, but I was more reluctant.  A passer-by was trying to shout instructions across the road, but I couldn’t make him out, and he picked his way through the traffic to open the gate for me.  Thank you!

We found ourselves at Spanish Arch, and our first expereince of the ever-present busking in this lively and musical city.

A trio were delighting people in the bright sunny square with some rock covers, the sun was shining, swans were gliding on the River Corrib, and a Galway hooker was putting up its sails.

The main street into Latin Quarter looked quite busy, so we wore our masks and took our time dandering past the cladagh jewellers and aran jumper shops.  I found a Murphys ice cream emporium, and cooled down with my favourite Dingle gin flavour whilst enjoying some more busking.  We found a Morrocan restaurant that looked interesting, and booked a table for tomorrow night’s dinner there.

Back at the hotel, I changed into a holiday maxi for dinner.  The Dillisk restaurant has a strong marine theme, including a seaweed garnished High and Dry gin cocktail, and seaweed flavoured wheaten bread.  There was sea bass on the menu, but it was supposed to come with gnocchi, which I don’t really care for.  But the staff volunteered to swap that for chips.

After dinner I took a stroll through the Claddagh, an open grassy are popular with young people who were relaxing with a few drinks.

We had booked a breakfast slot at 8.30, and the serve yourself buffet had plates individually wrapped in cling film.  I had some bread and cheese, and ordered scrambled eggs.  I was a little concerned that all the customers were being seated at adjacent tables, rather than spreading us out a bit more.  Ther was a mysterious bra abandoned by the lift – I’m guessing what happens in Galway stays in Galway.

It was a Sunday morning, which makes for a pleasant wander through less crowded streets.  We got some iced coffees to sip while people watching at Eyre Square, and I bought an enamel brooch from a chatty jeweller, who suggested we take the “ferry to Kerry” on our journey south, which would avoid going through Limerick.

I did my “not parkrun” by sticking to the water’s edge and running out the 1km causeway to Mutton Island.

The weather was glorious – normally we’d find somewhere to sit and enjoy a drink in the sunshine, but current restricitons make that more diffuclt.  We found a quiet-ish spot down Kirwan’s Lane, and ordered some food to go with our drinks.  I get the feeling the noisy girls beside us had ordered one plate of chips between them, so no doubt there are ways around the rules.

To our restaurant for dinner – I ordered a veggie tagine and a glass of chardonnay…..to be told that they don’t serve alcohol!  But the waiter helpfully gave directions to a Spar round the corner where I procured a bottle for us to share.  Much cheaper that way anyway.  The food was delicious, and we took the long way home via Long Walk, soaking up the colourful atmosphere.

I booked a ticket for the Shannon ferry online, ready for our trip next day to the Cliffs of Moher and beyond.