It’s nearly time to leave Zákynthos. Our year-and-a-half-long odyssey to Europe is nigh on over. What a time we’ve had! And yes, I can feel another book about Zákynthos, or better, about the whole trip, coming on.
Our couchsurf near Salon-de-Provence was perfectly situated for day tours into the hill towns of Provence. Our first tour was to be of the Alpilles, a long limestone range full of olive trees, vineyards and medieval towns.
We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, circumnavigating Salon a couple of times before finding the correct road. We’d planned a little route round the Alpilles, starting at Eyguières, transiting Mouriès, then hitting Les Baux-de-Provence, where we had our first stop.
We picked up a car near the Nîmes train station and headed for our next destination – a Couchsurf near Salon-de-Provence. But as we had a bit of time to kill we decided to do a little side trip along the way. Referring to our guidebook we found a detour to the town of Miramas-le-Vieux. They really seem to like these hyphenated town names here, sometimes stretching to four or five words strung together in a memory-testing place name. We duly took turned off from the highway and headed south.
After about 20 minutes we approached the outskirts of a large town which turned out to be Miramas (note the lack of ‘-le-Vieux’). This ugly modern town seemed to bear no resemblance to the guidebook’s description so we decided to drive on and look for an alternative. Just after exiting the town we spotted a discrete sign up a narrow local road for ‘Miramas-le-Vieux’. We’d just discovered one of the little touring pitfalls – if there is a town called ‘le-Vieux’, which of course means ‘the-old’, then that most likely indicates that there is also a newer, and usually much less picturesque, town with the same name waiting to confuse visitors.
This guy got up from his seat two rows behind us on the Toulouse-Nîmes TGV to have a go at the family in the four-seater space opposite us, whose kids were – fair enough – being a bit noisy, albeit harmlessly so, I felt, since they looked like nice people, and you could tell the kids were smart, and while naturally I couldn’t catch everything the guy was saying it was definitely some sort of appeal to the mother to keep the kids’ jabber down, but she, long-legged and splendid of hair, kind of like Michelle Obama, tranquilly rebuffed his every plaintive “Mais Madame…”, explaining that kids will be kids, and saying “That’s just how they are: I don’t have a choice.” to which he answered “Moi non plus, Madame”, turning away, having failed to receive satisfaction, whereupon the father, hitherto uninvolved, offered the guy a desultory “Desolé”.
At the end of a raw spring week sleet and windy, Sunday turned the corner into May, ready to make amends. That morning we stepped out of our Theseus Walk Airbnb pied-à-terre and caught the number 38 bus to Charing Cross Road, ready to take it on foot from there.
Maybe I’d been listening to too many Shane MacGowan songs, but I’d forgotten how pretty Leicester Square can be when it’s quiet and the weather’s good. Thick with tourists, touts, and down and outs as it usually is, it’s hard to appreciate its prettiness under normal circumstances, but on May Day we got to see the square with the Bard and the Little Tramp in a clean light, and it was nicer than I’d imagined it would be.
On a cold February evening in 1999 I met my future husband in a pub on Main Street, Clifden. By the end of the year I’d moved to that little market town on the Atlantic, where I spent the next four years before moving back to Australia.
As little towns in Ireland go, Clifden’s not bad. Being a tourist town, there are pubs, boutiques and restaurants a-plenty. It’s a vibrant place full of tourists, and you’re always close to beautiful sandy beaches. But in winter it suffers the full force of the Atlantic weather and the tourists disappear along with a good portion on the locals. It’s just you and the mountains. And the lonely bogs.
We purchased it on our visit to Tintern Abbey and Colclough Walled Gardens last September down in Wexford. Since then we’ve tried to visit as many Heritage Ireland sites as possible, though there are many more that we didn’t manage to get to. Some of our favourites were:
A Cistercian abbey, founded c. 1200 by William, the Earl Marshall, and named after Tintern in Wales. It was occupied until the 1960s by the Colclough family.
Our travels took us to London this past weekend, and to a part of town we weren’t at all familiar with: Angel. Sandwiched between the City Road and Regent’s Canal, our Airbnb place at Theseus Place took us along the calm waters of the canal with its colourfully inhabited barges each time we came and went to Angel tube station, even if the place itself lacked ‘street appeal’. To judge by the posters and books inside, though, the Frenchwoman who owned it was obviously a big Star Wars fan, so we felt the force was with us the whole weekend.
This year’s parade was our first St. Patrick’s Day Parade here in Dublin. Of course, having grown up here, I’ve been to my fair share of Dublin parades, but not for a long time. Not for twenty years or so.
They throw a decent parade in Brisbane and we’ve been to a few of those over the years, though I fear that the Irish Club on Elizabeth St. won’t be there when we get back. So going to the parade here had long been on our agenda, and we weren’t going to miss it come rain or shine. Came shine, mercifully, and on the Thursday morning we drove into town and parked in a street of unsalubrious aspect between Mountjoy Square and North Circular Road.
We’re on a mission to see more of Ireland, to go to the sorts of places, which, if we ever thought about at all when last we lived here over ten years ago, we would have dismissed as the sorts of places tourists went to. Places with castles and visitor centres, or interpretive centres, whatever they’re called. Back then the new Ireland we were interested in had sushi trains in the Purple Flag Area behind Grafton St., and the Pavilion redevelopment in Dun Laoghaire. It had roads bypassing old midlands towns like Loughrea and Moate so that all of us Celtic Tiger cubs could get from the M50 to Galway quicker (although the public jacks in Loughrea would surely be missed by those who used to ply that route). Even the ferry to Aran was a new catamaran made in Perth, Australia, with TVs and wifi, a step up from the odoriferous fishing boat Dad and I went out there on in 1982. This year I’m travelling with my own kids (and Tina, of course) as tourists, and we’re on a mission. So we end up going to places like the Ferns, in Co. Wexford.