A krasáki at Kolonáki
We left Zakynthos the old-fashioned way: by ferry and bus to Athens. There’s nothing like being on the water to make you feel like you’re leaving or arriving on an island – coming by plane just can’t compare. On a calm sea we slowly watched Zakynthos turn into a hazy blur on the horizon, a slightly darker blue meeting the ultramarine of the sea.
For the end of September, it was unusually hot in Athens. The Friday afternoon traffic held us up but we finally arrived in our modest little apartment. Once again we chose to use AirBnb for the luxury of having a bit more room in which to spread out and for the option of eating in if we wanted. We were in the Pangrati district, just a quick walk across a park from the Evaggelismos metro stop and, most importantly, the Airport Bus. Walking into Syntagma Square, the epicentre of Athens, took about 15 minutes, except for the time we ended up going in circles in the National Gardens trying to find an exit. Continue reading
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.
Les Baux – one of the most beautiful villages in France
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”.
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.
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
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.
“Hey, Dad’s book is on Amazon.com” “Is it about Minecraft?” “Not really.” “Not interested then.” “Yeah, me neither.”
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.
Camping near Weba
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