The Ivory Curl trees were in full bloom the day we drove to the mountains. Other than Milano’s on the Mall after work on a Friday, the loose scattering of odd-shaped volcanic plugs called the Glasshouse Mountains are one of my favourite places in Queensland. Driving up to the Sunshine Coast these past few weekends, Mt. Tibrogargan always catches me out. Its shape-shifting profile means that as you drive around it it’s apt to take on different appearances.
Walking over the rocks that separate Alexandra Headland from Mooloolaba I nearly stood on a sea snake. I made sure it was dead before inspecting it closely. It was silver, with dark bands, and up close you could see it had non-overlapping hexagonal scales. They weren’t perfect, however; it was as if they came from the same mold that produced the basalt stacks at Giant’s Causeway, the odd coastal formation in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland that we’d visited last Easter. I looked it up later using the photos I’d taken and found it was a Hydrophis elegans; an elegant sea snake.
The Mooloolah river flows into the Coral Sea just south of the seaside town of Mooloolaba. In its final half kilometre it wraps around a spit, enveloping the boats anchored in Mooloolaba Marina that stick out into it on hundred-metre-long arms. On arm C of the Marina is a thirty-five-or-so foot yacht called the Gráinne Mhaol (pronounced Grawnya Wail) owned by our Irish friends Karl and Kara. Knowing they were heading off on an Antarctic cruise in the new year, we asked them around Christmastime if they needed someone – knowing full well they didn’t – to housesit the Gráinne while they were away. Magnanimously, they played along and said that’d be great, actually. We could keep an eye out in case anything happened while they were away, like a plague of bluebottles or a shower of cane toads.
Pandanus, Alexandra Headland Continue reading
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.
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.
With only a few hours until midnight on la Nochevieja, as New Year’s Eve is called in Spain, you’d think it would be easy to find a suitable restaurant in the packed alleyways around Seville Cathedral, but it wasn’t. Even when we found one with an available table, we were usually disappointed to discover once again that they were operating on a menú fin (set menu) basis at a cool €60 per person. Or else it was too bar-like. Or too smoky. Or loud. Or not Minecrafty enough for the kids, I don’t know. We pressed on. We tried down here, we tried down there. No luck.