There is definitely a theme to my travels. I repeatedly visit favorite places in Europe like some visit a favorite park or beach. An open Europhile, I traveled to Europe every chance I had. In fact, I tell people I moved here in order to reduce my carbon footprint. Now I fly Transatlantically twice a year as opposed to the 4-5 flights I did when I lived in NYC.
Ireland is one of my favorites. What are the other repeats? Well, by now you should know Belgium (12). I lived in England and went back 6 or so other times (it gets fuzzy due to years I popped in just for a night en route to the continent). Switzerland (10). Other places, I’d like to pop in and visit, but I would always go to the favorite spots as well. Europe allows for that, with countries like US States. (You don’t count how many times you visit NY when you live in NJ, for example).
But why not Italy? Why is it not on the repeat fave list? Let’s see, before I moved here, I had traveled to Italy 5 times, so I clearly did enjoy my time but was not lured as often as nearby Switzerland, for example. Well, to be honest, I always liked popping into Tuscany especially and always had visions of one day chilling in the Cinque Terra (that’s just 1.5 hours away now!). But train strikes, overbooked trains, missed connections, tourist crowds, and general chaos makes Italy a bit frustrating for a tourist (as well as an inhabitant). Not to knock my host country, but I just didn’t feel as strong a lure to Italy as to my faves. Switzerland, Belgium, and Ireland are calm, ordered, peaceful, beautiful, friendly, and extremely accommodating to tourists.
Even after all these visits, I was still excited and at peace when I landed around 8pm. Ahhh. The fresh air, the . . . how do I say it? Ireland has some kind of magical hold over me. A friend told me, “It’s in the blood.” I am 25% Irish, with my mother’s grandparents hailing from County Monaghan. As a result, she just got her Irish passport after validating her dual citizenship status. She also qualifies for Italian dual citizenship (actually, as do I as they honor citizenship through great grandparents). But as I have learned after the 6 months it took me to get my Visa, the process is very bureaucratic, but I’ll get it one day. 🙂 I’m 50% Italian, by the way, with Mom’s maternal grandparents from Northern Italy, the Piacenza region, to be exact. And Dad’s grandparents from Sicily (Palermo). Anyways, I do feel a bit at home in Italy, and I certainly look Italian. But I’m still trying to find a way to articulate why Ireland is so special to me.
Is it the incredibly fresh, crisp air? Not to knock Genoa’s air, but it doesn’t have the same pristine quality. Is it the fact that they speak English? With the fun brogues? Is it the people’s wonderful sense of humor? Their open and friendly nature? The fact that even the cab driver will tell you his life story if you get him started. Mom loves to get them started, always asking, “How is your day so far?” That’s all it takes. Before long, we are learning tales of relatives in New York, snowstorms 15 years ago, slow business days, daughters and sons-in-laws, advice for traveling, commentary on the “Gloom and Doom” economy . . . it goes on and on. Mom is always quick to say, “I come every February and now I have my Irish passport.”
“It’s the promised land,” said our Cabbie last night.
Ireland is a beautiful country. But while the views are splendid, I guess it is the people. We love the people. The Irish make everyone feel at home, like we are all family. I love that. And now we actually do have some friends here who are like family.
We met them in Lake Como, Italy actually. How? Mom’s gift of gab.
I was swimming in the small pool on the terrace, overlooking gorgeous Lake Como, summer 2011. Mom was sunbathing and happened to strike up a conversation with a young woman. Her friend was floating on a raft in the pool, near me. Before long, we discovered they were both teachers working in Dublin. We enjoyed lots of conversation, laughs, and some drinks, kept in touch through facebook, and reunited last summer for dinner and a concert at the National Concert Hall. The music of Danny Elfman. (Simpsons, of course!). It was all in connection with the Jameson International Film festival that is held this time every year. And I’m always here this year because it’s my February break. Luckily, my February break at my new school (the Ski Week) coincides with that of my old school.
Anyways, this year, the music at the concert hall was a bit dark so Mary Bridget and Elaine booked tickets for The Gate theatre, a small, intimate theatre. After a delightful dinner and sinful dessert at the Gresham Hotel (seriously sinful — bread and butter pudding for me that must have had a whole brick of Kerry Gold in it, mmm), we walked across to the Gate Theatre where we discovered we had 2nd row seats for “A Bedroom Farce,” a very funny British Comedy.
We were laughing our arses off for the duration, especially while watching a John Cleese like character stuck in bed with back pain. He dropped his book and the look on his face and the perfect mannerisms . . . it was wonderful. If the wrong type of actor was cast, it just wouldn’t be funny. But this was delightful. Having just suffered a flare up of an old track injury where I had a slipped disc/sciatica, I know all too well the comic positions, faces, and noises you make when your back gets “stuck” as his was.
So, after a lovely evening, we thanked the girls for their delightful treat (Aunt Minnie got dinner for us and the girls just insisted that they treat us to the show no matter how hard Mom tried to protest. Elaine said, “We won’t take it. We’ll just leave that as a very nice tip for our waiter.”)
Mom said, “These are our first international friends. You’ve been traveling for years, but for us, this is new and they are so special.” She is right.
“Who are your first international friends?”
I thought a minute. “Jasper and Dave” I said. From Bruges. “11 years later, I still talk to them and visit them.”
Mary Bridget said, “It is so wonderful to have international friends.”
“It Tis,” said Elaine. We all nodded our heads, said a farewell, and Mary Bridget promised to be in touch to help me plan my trip. I’m taking some students to Dublin to study the Irish Nationalist movement, the revival, WB Yeats, James Joyce, etc. As she is studying at Trinity College in the English Department (for her Masters) she said they would be happy to help.
What else did we do on this tour? Well, a quick recap. I arrived via Paris the evening before and stayed in a single ensuite room at a lovely hostel I had visited in 2006 in a dorm room. This was the first time in a private room, and it was spendidly comfortable. The next morning, I walked over to our hotel where I met Mom and Great Aunt Minnie, freshly arrived from JFK in NYC. They napped, I got a haircut at Toni & Guy. (It’s very hard to find English speaking hairdressers and my Italian is just not that good yet).
That evening, we took a DART train ride to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Dun Leary) for a lovely stroll in the sunshine along the sea and a delightful meal. I had sweet and spicy chicken wings. mm. Back on the electric commuter rail (60% financed by the EEC) and back to Dublin. Did we take a stroll around? I don’t exactly remember, but the ladies were jetlagged and to bed early.
The next morning, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast, hopped on a hop on/hop off tour bus — an annual tradition, stopped at the Guinness Storehouse for their first visit (I went in 2001). I enjoyed a pint at the Gravity Bar with views over the city. Mom had half of hers, and Aunt Minnie had a soda. I loved it and couldn’t believe that when I came in 2001, as a Junior in College, I still was making bitter beer face, even with Guinness. I had a couple of sips and then handed it over to the man sitting at the bar waiting for such an opportunity. He must buy his ticket every day and then drink discarded Guinnesses all day for free. I did not see him in 2013 on this trip, though.
Anyways, we completed our loop and returned for high tea. Later that night, I ordered room service for puff pastry potato and chicken leak pie. mmm.
The following morning, we boarded a bus for our annual Wicklow tour, the gorgeous mountains just outside of Dublin where many movies are filmed, including PS I Love You. I can’t go to Wicklow without thinking of this clip: Mom saw it on TV and said it reminded her of me. Aww. What a sweet movie. With great music. Love it. Of course, as it was February, the fields weren’t filled with the gorgeous purple heather, but they still have their own special quality. More about Wicklow along with photos in another post.
That evening, Mom and I walked to Grafton Street, where there was shopping until 9pm and I had a wardrobe to restock a bit. But somehow we got separated and somewhere there is security footage of us comically passing each other. In fact, we both said we were watching the street sweeper go by. We were probably on either side of him. And somewhere in that sweeper went one of my new favorite earrings. Oh well.
Yesterday was a lazy day. We woke up for breakfast, Mom and I shopped (finally), then we rested until dinner with the girls. And finally I did some yoga to try to fend off this food binge. Oh, but how lovely it all is. And now here we are, Lazy Day 2. We might go to a movie. It’s really cold, actually snow flurrying. And while I did not need gloves in Switzerland when it was -9 degrees Farenheit, Ireland at 30 degrees freezes my hands off. It’s a chilling, damp kind of cold. We were thinking of heading to Howth to see the sea lions at the other end of Dublin bay, but it looks like a movie is in order. I want to see Lincoln, but Aunt Minnie says, in all seriousness, “I don’t want to see that. I know how it ends.”
So we shall see. Off for a walk so housekeeping can come in.