In Brussels for the Christmas markets

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.

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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).

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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

Glendalough

We’ve been keeping pretty quiet lately since our last weekend away in Kerry. After school/work/study during the week it’s tempting to just relax on the weekends.  We’ve settled into a routine of strolling down to Dalkey village for coffee and a visit to the library on Saturdays and then spending the afternoon reading the papers and just generally relaxing.  Sunday occasionally we venture out for a drive or excursion.

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Striking a pose by the river

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To Kingdom Come

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.

Gap of Dunloe

Gap of Dunloe

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‘On a Greek Island’ is now available on Amazon.com

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" "That's nice, but I'm reading about Minecraft."

“Hey, Dad’s book is on Amazon.com” “Is it about Minecraft?” “Not really.” “Not interested then.” “Yeah, me neither.”

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Camping trip in Poland

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
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

Family trip to Berlin

After leaving Zakynthos we flew to Berlin via Athens.  Not the quickest way to go but the cheapest option we found at the time.  We flew with Aegean Airlines who were surprisingly good with 23kg of luggage and meal included. We’d chosen to stay in a small pension-hotel in Charlottenburg- Wilmersdorf because of its excellent TripAdvisor reviews, its decent price, and the fact that it was a single bus ride from Berlin Tegel airport.  The ease of getting to your hotel via public transport is always something I take into account, as our kids are too small to be able to lift their own luggage up and downs stairs or on and off trains and buses. Hotel-Pension Bregenz was on the fourth floor of a six-storey building on a quiet street just near Olivaer Platz, south of Kufurstendamm.

We took it pretty easy and spent quite a bit of time just wandering about. Some of our favourite experiences were: Continue reading

Back in Dublin Town

Well, after being on the road for the last three weeks we are now settling into our new home in Dublin.  The plan is to stay here for a school year while the kids attend school and Ralph finds a job.  Ideally I’d like a job too but the librarian job market here is almost non-existent so instead it looks like I’ll be doing some postgraduate study at Trinity College instead.

Since leaving Zakynthos (sob) we’ve traveled to Berlin and northern Poland (Pomerania) and hopefully soon there will be some more detailed blogs to follow.  But just now we’re concentrating on all those mundane things like getting the internet connect, bank accounts, getting the kids ready for school and starting the job hunt.

The Peloponnese – Monemvasia and Elafonissos

In part two of our trip around the Peloponnese we went to Polilimnio and the Mani.

It was time to leave the Mani even though we’d only had time to see a tiny part of it. We headed south to Areopoli and through the mountain pass towards Gytheio with a quick swimming stop at Mavrovouni beach along the way. Arriving in Gytheio just before lunch, we planned to eat at one of its famous harbourside fish tavernas.  But it was still a little early so we set off to explore Marathonisi, a one-time island, but now connected by a mole to the mainland.  There was an intriguing-sounding Museum of the Mani that occupied an 18th-century tower house that we’d hoped to visit, but alas, it was closed.  In ancient times this little island was known as ‘Kranae’, and according to Homer it was here that Paris and Helen of Troy spent their first night after running away from Sparta. We chose a taverna for lunch and sat at a waterside table where we could see the little fish feeding on the mossy rocks. After a meal of kalamari, mussels and a rocket salad it was time to get in the car and continue towards Monemvasia. Continue reading

The Peloponnese – Polilimnio and the Mani

In part one of our trip around the Peloponnese we went to Ancient Messene, Pylos and Methoni Castle.

After two nights it was time to leave ‘sandy Pylos’, as it was called by Homer. We were going to head east across Messinia, go straight through Kalamata, and then drive south down the second finger, the Mani peninsula. The Peloponnese is surprisingly compact to someone used to the vastness of Australia but we quickly found that the correlation between the kilometres we drove and the time taken to drive them had a less than linear correlation.  Main roads can be tortuously windy with secondary roads lapsing into a single lane in places. Add to that the presence of two potential pukers in the back seat and our progress was slow. Continue reading