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.
Two days after Christmas we flew to Lisbon. Not that we particularly needed a break or anything, having spent the previous weekend in Connemara, and the one before that in Brussels, it’s just that Tina and I talked ourselves into it one evening watching TV, neither of us dared back down, and next thing I knew she’d booked flights. And now here we are.
We went to Brussels for the weekend recently, but I only got as far as Saturday lunchtime in part 1.
The Atomium was the main pavilion of the Brussels World Fair of 1958 up on the Heysel plateau, a space-age icon that outlasted everything else. I’d been to it before, on one or other of my two previous visits to Brussels; I just hadn’t gone into it. Or had I? I couldn’t remember. You wouldn’t think you’d forget something like that, but that’s what happens as you get older and accumulate more and more experiences, and it’s shocking. I mean, how many crystals of iron had I seen enlarged 165 billion times, never mind actually been in? (As an aside, the word ‘atomium’ itself comes from ‘atom’ + ‘aluminium’, the metal they switched to mid-construction.)
Ruben was in a restaurant one night in October when he got a notification on his phone of a Couchsurfing request – two adults, two kids – for the beginning of December. “A family with two young boys: that could be really cool or it could be a real disaster”, he thought. “I’ll take my chances.” He accepted the request.
Considering that by Christmas we’d be bang in the middle of our European project it seemed only natural to make a pilgrimage to the centre of the European project – Brussels – to do some Christmas shopping. So we organised flights and went on couchsurfing.com to find somewhere to stay. That’s what we tend to do if we’re just going somewhere for a quick weekend. And lo, we quickly found a fellow called Ruben living in Anderlecht who was willing to host us (and in fact we got another offer from a guy in Saint-Gilles to fall back on should we need it).
Grand Place, Bruxelles
I only knew the name Anderlecht from when I was 8 and into soccer like everyone else my age. But just like almost all of those other European soccer team names, like Ajax, Porto, Lazio, etc., Anderlecht meant nothing to me as an actual geographical place, a place people lived in. I mean, where would you actually go to meet an Ajaxian? Whither a Portian? Who cared? They were cool football team names. So I never found out what that word Anderlecht meant until we checked Ruben’s profile. Turns out it’s a suburb south-west of Brussels city centre, catered for by a stop called Bizet on the metro. Nice. And, we were going to be staying on a street called Claude Debussy. Extra nice. Continue reading
We looked on Couchsurfing recently for options for a two-day midterm break stay somewhere in Ireland, and Bert from the Netherlands got back to us. He lives just outside Abbeyfeale, in the county of Kerry, or ‘The Kingdom’ as they like to call it down there, so we thought: why not? That was far enough away to make it worthwhile going for the Sunday and bank holiday Monday, and there’d be plenty of things to see en route, so we accepted, and he confirmed, and that was that. We were going to stay in Bert’s cottage just over the Kerry border with Limerick, barely a stone’s throw from the river Feale.
Finally, after four months on Zakynthos, and a month and a half off it, ‘On a Greek Island: A Season in Zakynthos‘ is available as an ebook on Amazon.com. It’s quite a thing to see it there after all these months. What started as an idea back in Brisbane about a year ago and got written during our (nearly) four months in Zakynthos is now a reality. Well, as much of a reality as an ebook can be. It’d still be nice to see it appear as a ‘real’ book, but that can wait.
Here’s a short piece I wrote for the Irish Times amateur travel writer competition recently. We’d just come back from Poland, so it seemed like a good idea to write about that.
Only a few hours of daylight were left to us – Maciej and his wife and two kids; me and mine – as we set off into the countryside for the start of a week-long tour of Pomerania, in northern Poland. Within ten minutes we had cleared the suburbs of Kołobrzeg, the large resort town on the Baltic coast in which we’d spent the last week as guests of Maciej and his young family. Everyone was glad to be on the road at last, and the crack was good on board. Continue reading
One day on our previous visit to Zante two years ago we noticed workmen clearing up a large amount of sand on Solomós Square, the main square in Zákynthos town. We went about our business and thought no more about it. Reading the local paper the next day I found out what the sand had been for: jousting. I read that again: jousting? In Zákynthos? Ναι! Continue reading
Of all the nationalities I could have been if I wasn’t Irish, French would have suited me best. That has nothing to do with my French-sounding surname, which actually comes from a far-flung corner of county Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, but rather from the affinity I’ve pretentiously felt with the language and – oui – the culture since I was young. I did French in school, liked it, did well at it, read some French books, and really got into French cinema, especially if it involved nudity, which it usually did. To this day, my favourite movies include “Le Boucher”, “Diva”, and “Rififi”. Some days here on Zakynthos, I feel like I’m starring in my own Marcel Pagnol adaptation, like the père in “La Gloire de mon Père”.