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.
Sky Road View
One of the best things we did when we first arrived in Ireland was purchase a one year family pass from Heritage Ireland. For €60 we got a year’s worth of monuments, castles and manor houses.
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:
- Tintern Abbey
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.
Eoin at the Parthenon Sculptures in The British Museum
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.
Looking up the east side of Parnell Square towards the Abbey Presbyterian Church. Well, I am. He’s looking down O’Connell Street. It’s that visual contrajuxtaposition that makes this picture work.
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.
The holiday season is well and truly over and we’ve all settled back into our Dublin routines: the boys in school, myself in college and Ralph working in town. We’re still on a bit of a high after our wonderful tour around Portugal and Spain over New Year’s. If you’re not from Australia or New Zealand you’ll find it hard to appreciate our amazement and delight that when living in Europe you can fly, or drive, and be in another country IN A COUPLE OF HOURS! Endlessly amazing.
Dublin has been having a pretty mild winter, though quite stormy. December was one storm after another and constant, dreary rain. January has been a bit colder, but with some fine days (or parts of days) and the storms not quite so regular. The boys are still hoping for some snow but so far there’s been just a little smattering on the Dublin mountains which disappeared in a day or two.
Dublin, itself, hasn’t been too much of a culture change for us. We are halfway through our planned stay here and settled in fairly nicely. Like in Brisbane, we’re living in a house in the suburbs so I thought I’d do a light hearted comparison between the two. Continue reading
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