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An Irish Interval in My Midlife Gap Year – Part 1: 3 – 7 October 2015

It’s my 132nd travelling day and I awake in Dublin.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Dublin is overcast and cool this morning. I wake at 8 am and have breakfast. When I booked the Adelphi Guesthouse, I thought the breakfast was included but when I checked in last night found that the providers of my tiny €99 room with a shared bath, in a place which bills itself as a B&B, charge extra for breakfast. My look of disappointment led to the receptionist throwing it in for free. If you present yourself as a bed & breakfast, which they do, then charging €5 for toast, tea/coffee, yoghurt, and fruit is, frankly, bullshit.

I spend the rest of my morning writing and planning while enjoying this view:

An urban view form a window with a few red roses on a unkempt vine in the foreground and an elevated commuter train in the distance.
The view from my tiny room

The Adelphi Guesthouse is right around the corner from Isaac’s Hostel – where I stayed in 1988 and which is still going strong. The area – as it was then – is a little seedy. Last night when I went out for a kebab and a beer I passed beggars, street-sleepers, and drunks.

While taking this photo of the Adelphi I find myself thinking, “Now, right around here someplace was the phone box from which I’d called my parents and learned that my visa for the Soviet Union had come through.”

Georgian, perhaps, row housed in Dublin - two are now accommodation.
Adelphi Guesthoue – the one in the middle

I look around and realise I’m standing right next to it! Ha ha!

A pair of Irish phone boxes on a Dublin street.
The phone box (or its descendent) that I used in 1988.

Now I’ve plunged into the heavy Saturday shopping crowds filling the little streets and malls behind the General Post Office. I’m looking for more non-cycling clothes and find €10 Converse All-Star knockoffs in one shop and at Dunnes Stores I get jeans, a belt, and undies. I collect wine, a mini pecan pie, and hummus as gifts for the Lucas-McCarthy family. Of course, I also have lunch at Umi Falafel while collecting the hummus (so good) and give the coffee at Kaph another go – a flat white this time which is better than the macchiato I had a couple of months ago, but still not as good as it should be.

I head back to the hotel to get my duffel bag and am on the 3:45 pm bus to Carlow. Cornelia and the kids collect me there just after 5 pm.

It’s weird and wonderful to be back. Not least because Isabel has grown at least two centimetres while I’ve been away.

We open the wine. Glenn and the kids drift to the TV room and Cornelia and I yammer on about my trip and the goings-on in her life since I left. I let her read the poem I wrote about reading Robert Pinsky’s poetry, about which she says many sincere and nice things: that it’s very well written, edited to sharpness, increasingly autobiographical, and that she likes, without knowing the referenced poems, that they are referenced.

After the kids retire, Cornelia and I join Glenn near the TV and fire and are warmed by both the Wallabies resounding victory over England – to eliminate them from their home Rugby World Cup – and the raging fire.

Sunday 4 October 2015

I’m still on Berlin time and wake early for a quiet and lazy day in the Irish countryside.

Mount Leinster in autumn

While doing my laundry I realise the undies I bought in Dublin are a dog’s breakfast of sizes (a pack of 5 size 14s = 2 x 16, 2 x 10, and one 8). One day this week we’re bound to go to Kilkenny, where there is a Dunnes, so I’ll return them then. It would have been nice to have fresh undies though, I was really looking forward to it. Travellers travails.

In the afternoon, Cornelia and I go for a walk on their bit of property up the hill – it’s a bit steep and hard going, it would be difficult to do much of anything with it beyond visiting. We drive up to Rathanna planning on popping into the pub but its closed. There is a funeral about to get underway in the church there. A huge crowd is waiting for the hearse to arrive and they all stared at us as we drove through.

Cornelia and I – out for a walk.

And now Cornelia and Glenn have gone off for a 24-hour spa retreat leaving me to mind the kids which is easily done as they are quite self-sufficient. They both happily feed themselves dinner, after which we watch a movie together, and then they put themselves to bed.

How do I feel?

I’ve fully updated my bookkeeping and I’m feeling pretty good about my resources.

I’m missing the bicycle and the groove I felt I’d found riding lately, but the Irish weather is less inviting than Berlin’s was, so I’m happy not to be riding here, now.

I’m feeling anxious about visiting the United States. I haven’t spent more than three weeks in a row there since I moved to Australia in 2000. I find aspects of the culture there and the political culture, in particular, really confronting and jarring – the guns, the bible-thumping, the demonization of socialised health care, the industrialised food. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family but otherwise, I’m feeling quite anxious about spending a couple of months there.

Generally, however, I’m feeling pretty even-keeled and just happy to be here in this lovely home in a beautiful part of the world, in the warm embrace of this brilliant family.

Monday 5 October 2015

I am up to see Matthew off at 7:25 am. Lily, the cat, has delivered a mouse to the back door. And Isabel is off at 8:55 am for her 9:00 am bus.

The day is overcast. Mount Leinster, which dominates the view from the lounge room, is shrouded in clouds. It rains off and on while I sit at the table and work all day. I send out my e-newsletter, prepare a blog post, sort out the details of my bounce through Berlin on my way to Chicago – booking a hotel and sussing out how to get there from Berlin Schönefeld Airport and from the hotel to Berlin Tegel Airport.

Isabel arrives home around 3:30 or so and is immediately bored. Yes, I say, you can watch TV but you have to turn it off before Mum and Dad get home.

What to say about another quiet day in the country?

I’m feeling … you know, okay – less wistful about riding – probably because the weather here isn’t inviting.

Stunned that the US is a week away now. Stunned.

Tuesday 6 October

Reviewing the list showing which recipients of my e-newsletter have opened it is a bit amusing. It’s funny imagining some of these people reading about me and Christoph in Zurich. They are people I know from jobs and previous travels and university, and just life – somewhere we met and now they are on my mailing list. So that’s a little weird, but also, totally okay because it is who I am. And if I plan to write about it for strangers, I can’t be embarrassed to write about it for friends.

I had mentioned to Cornelia that I was keen to get my hair cut before heading to the States. She has a woman who comes to her house and has been meaning to book her in. So here she is this morning. As is always the case when I have someone other than my home hairstylist cut my hair, I am dubious of the job initially but will surely become satisfied with it over time.

After lunch, there is a break in the rain and I go for a 90-minute walk up the hill and back. It’s lovely: there are bits of fairy floss cloud which have escaped from the mass and hug the hills. Sheep and cows graze their way across green stone-walled paddocks. A BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) shrine adorns a wee white house with powder blue trim and lace curtains.

This place is so green.



I return to a house resplendent with the smell of baking peanut butter cookies. Oh, what a welcome! Isabel has a friend round so they and Cornelia are baking. Is there anything more welcoming upon return from a long walk than the smell of freshly baked cookies?

In the evening, I register for a 3-week intensive German-language course in Augsburg beginning 11 January. With a home-stay and half-board (breakfast) it’s less than €900 – a good deal compared to others I’ve looked at. I’m happy with Augsburg – it’s not tiny but small enough and, frankly, seems dull enough that I expect it will be both conducive to study and provide everyday opportunities to practice.

I also listen to the Deutsche Welle German News for Beginners – God what a language it is. It is such a pity Christoph Waltz is not French.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

It is a glorious, sunny, autumnal morning. Cornelia’s friend Nora is involved in a rehabilitation centre for recovering addicts where they grow vegetables both for use at the centre and to sell to the community. This morning a group of us head over to collect some items for lunch. We pick tomatoes while Nora levers giant fennel bulbs from the ground. There is a whole heap of pumpkins awaiting collection.

Nora harvests fennel while pumpkins await collection.

They are going to drop me some distance from home so I can walk and enjoy the day, but first, we stop at a Tesco where I get Jammy Donuts to sustain me on my walk and a bottle McGuigan red wine for the household.

They drop me at Ballymoon Castle – a ruin of a 13th-century Anglo-Norman castle sitting quietly in a verdant green field. It looks a perfect wild camping spot – inside the ruins – no one would see you.

New haircut, old castle.

From there it’s about 90 minutes’ walk back to the house – a bit of up and down – along country roads.

It sure is pretty when the sun shines.

When I arrive back at the house the group – which is to say Glenn’s woodturning students and a few others – is still eating lunch, so I join them.

In the arvo, I get some work done on my trip plans and then go with Cornelia into Bagenalstown. I have a wander while she runs errands. I visit the chemist and write at the library. In order to use their internet, I have to become a member, which I do, much to my amusement.

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