To Travel or Not to Travel…

Cotton Wool Clouds!

As I sit on the terrace at home it’s a delight to feel the warmth of the sun on my face; a warm breeze touches my skin like a feather cooling me down. Indeed it is one of those rare days when the breeze is a welcoming encounter.

I hear the sound of the ocean against the rocks and the cries of laughter that come floating in the wind from the beach below. The sound of the sea is soothing. While I love to travel, well, today I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else; Ireland is paradise when the sky is blue and ‘cotton-wool’ clouds populace the horizon.

Peace and tranquillity… such bliss. Umm, the bliss is short-lived! The mood is broken! The thundering sound of a plane overhead; I open my eyes and catch the Brittany Ferries on its southbound course… you all know where this story is heading… Ah! Where is that plane going? And what about the holiday makers in the ferry… My imagination is quick to deviate itself from the pleasures of sitting on my terrace to travelling…

Falling asleep in a faraway place, aware of the pleasures that tomorrow will bring, feelings of freedom exploring new places and people, days of discovery fill my imagination. Visiting a foreign city, or distant coastal places, there’s delight in creating narratives of my own as I stroll through the streets sharing my thoughts about art, culture and architecture with my husband. But don’t forget that the ordinary is rich and wonderful. Join the journey of discovering the mundane experiences of new places; Be-in-their-world.

Allowing my feet to take me to where they want to go. Going with the flow, following my instinct, detecting the places where locals go, immersing myself into mundane activities. But, I also very much like to go where the visitors go, checking out interesting spots that showcase the geography, history, and indeed art of the places I visit.  

 I must say that living on the coast entices me to appreciate city escapes; discovering the flurry of activity that city life brings knowing that I’ll return to my quiet haven.  

Weaving together the cultural fabric of places through food, wine, art, architecture, and other elements of distinctiveness that make these places what they are and the people who they are. Threads woven together creating narratives that endeavour to reveal the secrets of such locations. Places mean different things to different people. Sharing experiences can open up new ways of seeing the world around us; and in so doing, entice the visitor to create narratives of their own.

Travelling and writing experiences are, for me, intertwined. I observe the places where my feet take me, be-there; then my feet surrender to my hands. Such encounters, using all my senses, are transferred to the blank page; my hands take over, gliding along its smooth surface. Both pen and page unite to create and archive my memories.

Ireland’s Misty Shores

What is it that gives us the urge to travel? I’ve never actually dwelled on the question. Being Irish there is almost a taken-for-granted attitude that everyone will, one day, leave this island for pastures new be it long-term or short-term.  We tend to delight in constant mobility. The notion of ‘itchy feet’ comes to mind.  

It’s our genetic make-up that seems to ‘encourage’ us to embrace life beyond our shores. I don’t think we’re the type of individuals who think that faraway hills look greener – that would be difficult given that Ireland is ‘The Emerald Isle’! – But rather, we’re inquisitive about life elsewhere. 

Our damp climate can be one of the reasons why many Irish people decide to move away, usually to warmer places; embracing the outdoor lifestyle. Yet, despite some of the inconveniences that push us abroad, there are those of us who return.

While I appreciate the sun and living in warm climates, I would miss the ‘ole Irish mist’, the stormy seas washing up on our shores.

A few years ago, my husband and I paid a visit to a friend in Nice; it was early December. The weather was so warm that I spent the majority of the time in shorts and short sleeves. I went swimming almost every day. It was delightful. Coffee at a beach-side terrace, picnics on the beach, spending time à flâner – strolling – through the streets of Vieux-Nice… The warmth of the sun on my face, no lack of vitamin D here!

I marvelled at the outdoor lifestyle; I could see myself immersing into life in the south of France.  That particular winter in Ireland, well, in Cork anyway, it had rained for 80 consecutive days.  I can hear some of you exclaiming: “What! Is that possible?” Indeed it is!

About a week after our return to Cork, I was strolling along the beach one morning – as I often do –when sea mist began to envelope me. Despite it being winter the day was mild – it’s not unusual to have mild winters in Ireland, especially on the south coast. I stood motionless, taking it all in, and the feeling was one of gratification. I thought “this is why I would miss Ireland”. Indeed, I love the sunshine and warmth but I also appreciate the sea mist that brings a certain sense of ‘otherworldliness’ to a place.

For those of you living in ‘mostly-hot-and-sunny climes’ do come visit Ireland; maybe you too can appreciate the mild mist falling around you – creating a feeling of enchantment. These mist-filled days are so propitious to having a bowl of homemade soup accompanied by brown soda bread – homemade of course – beside a blazing open fire in one of the many traditional Irish pubs. It’s an ideal time to chat with locals and listen to traditional Irish music. Come explore this ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’; from Dublin, its capital, to Cork, the People’s Republic also known as the Rebel County, stopping off at Ireland’s Ancient East, not forgetting to meander through West Cork and all the pathways of discovery as you journey on the Wild Atlantic Way, taking in the scenery of the west and north of Ireland– there is something for everyone. And if you enjoy walking then don’t forget to pack your hiking boots to experience the myriad of breath-taking trails.

Experience our Celtic heritage, our identity steeped in local folklore. Irish people tend to be rooted to their culture, however, have an innate sense of travel ‘in the blood’. You’d find an Irish person in every part of the world. We tend to adapt easily, yet, we bring with us the expression of who we are through our cultural heritage, be it music, sport, or language.

During your Irish adventure you are sure to hear a number of locals discuss the weather conditions; we are recognised for our inherent attachment to the meteorological forecast. Expressions such as, ‘soft day, thank God’ usually heard on a mild but dampish day! Come visit and be part of the experience; explore the dramatic maritime landscapes of our seaboards.

Bacalhau! Taste the Sea…

My first visit to Portugal was in April 2017. We flew from Dublin to Porto where we stayed with a friend of my husband’s – they used to be neighbours in France before he returned to Portugal with his parents at the age of fifteen. They had not seen one another in thirty years! But, like all close friendships, once they began reminiscing about their youth the thirty years that had separated them rapidly dwindled; it was like old times. We arrived on a Friday evening; we took the train to the other side of town where Stefano came to collect us. It was a warm, or rather hot, evening; you must remember that we live in Ireland which has an Oceanic climate whereas Portugal has a temperate climate. Anyway, he and his wife welcomed us with warmth to their home. We met their daughter, son-in-law and their first grandchild who was three at the time. His wife, what a great cook, prepared a feast of fresh fish and fresh vegetables for each meal. 

On Saturday we took the tram to Porto. We fell in love in the place; the architecture – my husband and I have a deep appreciation for structural design; the vibrant colours; the cafés and restaurants and so much more the list is endless… We were, nevertheless, surprised at the amount of French people. French was spoken at every street corner! We spent the day meandering through the narrow lanes. We lunched at the Café Majestic, a place that takes you back to the Belle Époque. We ordered the cod dish which was un délice – delicioso – delicious. You cannot visit Portugal without tasting, at least once, their cod dishes – Bacalhau – salted cod. It set us up for the rest of the day. We spent Sunday with our generous hosts; a quiet and tranquil day in the suburban countryside, away from the hustle-and-bustle.

The following morning, Monday, Stefano accompanied us to the nearest tram station. We headed into town to catch the Rede Expressos to Lisbon. This is Portugal’s main intercity coach company, providing an efficient service between Porto and Lisbon. We took the 9 o’clock coach and arrived in Lisbon, three hours later, in time for lunch. We found Lisbon so different to Porto. You could tell it is the capital city; more ‘things’ happening, nonetheless, we have a preference for Porto but that’s just us. It turned out to be the eve of the commemoration of Portugal’s revolution that night; there was plenty music and other festivities on Lisbon’s main square – Praça do Comércio – Commerce Square. Freedom Day, April 25, is a national holiday. So we dropped our luggage at the hotel and then went exploring Lisbon, well, in the first instance it was exploring for a place to eat; it was lunchtime! We happened upon a food emporium – the Time Out Mercado – a wonderfully restored warehouse that now houses over 30 eateries. There is everything from traditional Portuguese food such as Bacalhau and Pastel de nata – the infamous custard tart – to Asian, American and other European influences; fine wines and local beers. There is something for everyone. There are culinary classes and musical events. So really it’s a must… That evening we came across a Portuguese restaurant – near the Cais do Sodré train station – that ne paie pas de mine – does not look like much from the outside – but let me tell you that the food is simply extraordinary. We were probably the only tourists there! That’s how you know a place has a good reputation – it attracts the locals! So we went back there the following day to lunch and dine. Fish and seafood amazingly scrumptious; the grilled sardines –not small little ‘things’ but decent size – were in a league of their own.

We visited the Museu Nacional do Azulejo – the National Tile Museum; it is an art museum dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal, known as azulejo. Housed in the former Madre de Deus Convent, the museum’s collection is one of the largest of ceramics in the world; an escapade not to be missed. We also visited the Belém Tower – Torre de Belém – thatserved both as a fortress and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. Since 1983 it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a warm and sunny day so we decided to walk back to Lisbon centre, taking in the town’s architecture as we went. Not forgetting our trip on the infamous Tram 28!

Watch out!

It was a visit that was both short and sweet. We found the Portuguese to be very friendly and hospitable. We hope to return soon and I’d advise anyone who hasn’t been to Portugal – Lisbon and Porto – to plan their next trip there; you won’t regret it…

Roman Holiday

Rome, what a refreshing city; the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain… there is so much to see and experience… If these ancient structures could talk, I think they would have a lot of secrets.

Finding myself at the Colosseum I couldn’t help but think about Gladiator (2000) and they thought the Celts were barbaric! But I suppose it was all in a day’s work; it was the context in which life evolved. The sheer volume of this edifice; I am in awe, I hear the cries, the shouts, the roaring crowd that fills the amphitheatre… I try to imagine what life was like but it’s rather difficult. Emerging from my dream-like state, the hustle-and-bustle of modernity bring me back to my reality… a plethora of tourists speaking multitude of languages.

If Walls Could Talk!

Next the Pantheon; a former Roman temple and is now a church. What architectural prowess, marble floor with geometric patterns, what majestic craftsmanship. The nine metre diameter hole, called the Oculus is fascinating. The floor is slightly convex so when it rains the water flows away. I respect the fact that even ruins are so important to the local people, they carry significance in their own right.

I like Rome. It’s a compact city. It has kept its architectural heritage; there are no unwanted ugliness creeping its way into Roman architecture. I breathe a sigh of relief at the lack of standardisation, in other words, globalisation is on their terms…

I appreciate the exuberance of the Italians. The notion of far niente is compelling; the sweet idleness, delightfully slow-paced way of life. It reminds me of parts of France where life has a rhythm of its own. I feel lifted by the musicality of their language, but also, I think that the musicality comes from their personality and body language. They drive around the streets like mad yet they appear to soak-up life’s pleasures. The streets are so narrow that almost every car has its ‘signature dent’; they remind me of little laneways in an alpine village.

Rome often reminds me of the film The Scarlet and the Black (1983). It’s based on the true story of an Irish priest, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who saved thousands of Jews and Allied soldiers during World War II.

Back to the present…food is simply delicious here. One thing I remarked was the importance of fresh vegetables. Italy is a great place to eat for a vegetarian. There is great taste in their vegetable dishes, a real delight. Of course, not forgetting pizzas and pasta! My choice is the indispensible Margherita, always authentic. My husband finds the pasta Carbonara irresistible; made with pancetta or pork jowl – guanciale – the name is derived from guancia, the Italian word for cheek – a sweet and moist piece of pork.

I want to return to Rome and explore other parts of Italy; Venice, Florence – indulge my senses in art history – Naples, Sicily… My parents and brother’s family toured Italy last year; gosh looking at the myriad of photos they took was enough to persuade me to take another trip there. My sister has already toured many parts of Italy some years ago but she is ready for another trip! Perhaps we’ll explore together…