Tag Archives: travel planning

Leaving Ireland with Melancholy and Hope

17 – 22 August 2015 (Days 84 – 89 of my Midlife Gapyear)

Monday 17 August 11:30 am – Flanders Cross

And just like that, time is fleeting. The Kilkenny Arts Festival is finished and all my new acquaintances have begun to fade away.

I returned to Kilkenny via Dublin sharing a festival courtesy car with American author Jane Smiley and her husband Jack. They were both lovely. We talked about Australia. (Jane wondered why the people of Adelaide think so little of their city. “They live there even when the festivals are over,” I said). Not surprisingly, for an Iowa person, she has Chicago connections; I said that I grew up in the Skokie part of Evanston, “I see,” she said, “why you moved to Australia.”

Once back in town I was, again, helping Cornelia and Hazel. Then we had dinner and went to Druid Shakespeare. There we met a friend of Cornelia and her sister from Australia. Perhaps she missed that I’m from Sydney – when I asked where she was from she said 4 ½ hours north of Sydney. Yeah, where abouts? Sort of Armidale – yeah, where abouts? Walcha. Oh, sure, I know Walcha – inland from Port Macquarie. She was amazed.

When we were leaving Druid Cornelia exclaimed at how terrible that actress’ voice was. I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my opinion. She’s like some sort of Nicole Kidman-looking love child of William Shatner and Al Pacino.

We went on to The Set Theatre for the Brooklyn Rider, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill Marble City Session. So good – such beautiful, beautiful playing. I saw Robert Pinsky there at the end of the show and it pleased me that it pleased him to see me, “I thought you’d gone,” he said.

Then yesterday, Sunday, was the last day of the festival.  The finale gig at the Cathedral was fantastic – really amazing.

I expect to long have very fond memories of this time here – my time spent on the festival – the people I’ve met, the performances I’ve seen.

Monday 17 August – 5:55 pm, Kilkenny

I’ve gone and bought watercolours. I won’t paint if I don’t have them, now I do, so it’s a matter of finding time to use them.

Cornelia and Matthew are mother/son-ing. I’ve had an ice cream at Kitty’s Cabin. A gaggle of local youths hang about nearby with their ubiquitous hurling sticks – I wonder how often they are used as weapons?

Tuesday 18 August 12:40 pm – Waterford, The Larder

It’s a beautiful day – sunny and warm.

My bike is having it’s wheels trued. I’ve wandered Waterford – basically to find places: bicycle shops, phone repairs. My phone – the cable connection is fucked – is irreparable (a lesson in getting something unbranded).

The coffee here, at the Larder, is passable and I’ve had a nice chat with the proprietor – Patrick Murphy (really, he was born in England of an English mother and Irish father, they didn’t think they’d be moving back, but they did when he was four).

He’d been in retail most of his career but decided a couple of years ago to take a crack at a café. He was talking of Celtic Tiger times when everyone was flush. He worked at an electronics retailer and new TVs came in. He went to discuss how to display them and the manager said just stack them by the door – they’ll sell. Patrick was like ‘is this what this trade I’ve been working in all these years, the skills I’ve gained, come to?” He quit that day. He told this story to say all that all that wealth had made the Irish loose and careless with money. One good thing to come of the GFC, he thinks, is that people care more about quality now and this has something to do with the improvement of coffee in Ireland (though, let’s be honest, they still have a way to come).

I’m feeling keen to be riding again and also a bit weird that I’ll soon leave this place. And a little – just mildly – disappointed for not having gotten more writing done. But this week remains.

4:10 pm – At the library

Cornelia described this building as a Celtic Tiger building. Built to be a mall with major retailers but left standing empty when the GFC hit. It’s still basically empty but with council business – a library and regional office in part of it.

I have to admit that Robert has taken a hold in a space in my brain. I think the conversation I had with him was among the best I’ve had on this trip. I really enjoyed swapping Clinton stories with him and talking about American politics with someone quite attuned with the ways of that world.  I’m not sure I’ve recorded some of the Hillary Clinton stories he shared. He was a young professor at Wellesley while she was there. He was teaching an American Poetry class to arty young women who were sure the revolution had come or was nearly upon them, it was 1968. They were discussing a poem which mentioned a lawyer. And the response was “who would want to be a lawyer, or marry a lawyer? Ugh, how horrible”. And then a few of them saying “Hillary Rodham” chuckle, chuckle. It was the first time he heard her name.

He was at the commencement where she spoke. It had been the tradition of the school that a student did not speak – she was the first – and it was controversial. The main speaker – who went before her – was US Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, African-American and Republican; he spoke of patience and incremental change, of letting the system work. Hillary, in response, abandoned her prepared text to say something along the lines of, “Senator, we were hoping you’d have something to say about how we can solve these problems, etc.” Robert said that it was measured and well-delivered – that he went away thinking: This is an impressive person.

Hazel asked him about his Simpsons’ experience. He had flown to LA just before 9/11 – on one of the same flights that was highjacked on the day. He imagines (or knows) it was the same crew from his flight that would have been on that one. With air travel grounded, he was stuck in LA. The Simpsons crew took him under their wings. “In my circle, I’m considered by some to be funny,” he said, “but with them I felt an amateur surrounded by Olympians.”

I’d be quite pleased to make a friendship of it.

Wednesday 19 August – 10:22 am, Flanders Cross

Wispy clouds washed pink by sunset with crescent moon.
One of my final Irish sunsets.

On the drive home last night Cornelia said of her mother, “Her worry is deep and awesome.” I thought that was beautiful.

We were on our way from Waterford and stopped in at Bobbi’s where we were invited in for a glass of wine. She and her youngest daughter live in this mad beautiful manor house with views of green rolling hills and sheep. She lived in Australia for six years in the 1970s working as a station cook in the Outback. She told a story of visiting an Aboriginal community south of Katherine with a didgeridoo player of her acquaintance.

9:07 pm – Flinders Cross

I’m really beginning to stress out about whatever comes next. I was hoping to visit the French family with whom I rode in Wales in Caen. They’ve had to cancel – which puts me at a looser end.

I am looking at a two-week German class. Is that a good investment? Worthwhile? Or should I just ride from Cherbourg and stop worrying? Should I head to Germany on the shortest line? Or the Belgian border following the coast? Find the quickest way out of France? Or spend another €100 on the train out? Fuck if I know. Fuck if I know. I’m ready to go – but to where?

I emailed Robert Pinsky today – anxious to see if he replies and if he does, how.

Thursday 20 August, 7:17 pm – Flanders Cross

This morning I woke stressed by indecision, of uncertainty about where to go, and how to spend my time.

Cornelia suggested that I settle in somewhere for a month. This led to the idea of doing a four-week German course in January rather than two-weeks in October. It makes so much sense. I’ll sleep on it but it feels right and like a burden has been lifted. I can just ride from Cherbourg – head up the coast, the D-Day beaches. I’ll get to Berlin in time for my flight, easy.

And then I had an email reply from Robert Pinsky. Which pleased me.

I’ve dipped into his Selected Poems and think I’m going to like his stuff.

I have never been good at reading poetry.

I like to read faster than poetry invites. Poetry seems to require a deliberative reading which I have, so far, been unwilling to offer.

But maybe now is the time. Maybe it’s the time in my life to be a reader of poetry. Perhaps even a writer of poetry. And perhaps my meeting Robert is a bit of influencing good fortune.

Friday 21 August 12:25 pm – Umi Falafel, Dublin

I woke early. I’m excited about getting going again. I like the plans I’ve settled on. Glenn was coming up to Dublin, so I’ve tagged along to look for knicks and eat at this restaurant again.

I quite like this from Robert’s Gulf Music:

“… but the immigration papers did

Require him to renounce all loyalty to Czar Nicholas

As he signed, he must have thought to himself

The Yiddish equivalent of ‘No problem’, Mah la belle”

11:41 pm – Flanders Cross

Things are happening as they ought: I only rode 15 km in Ireland; I’ll study German in January; meeting Robert. As is ought. Fortuitous but as they ought to be.

To read and write and paint and take my time. To think and meet and learn. Poetry, reading poetry, enforces deliberation. Deliberation is good.

We’ll see, we’ll see.

Saturday 22 August, 4:05 pm – Pulling out of Rosslare

Farewell, farewell Ireland. I’m feeling a little wistful, a little sad to go. My time here was spent in unexpected ways – but it was good for me. Friendships made, forged. Decisions. Ideas. Realisations. Just settling in for a time.

A family - mum, dad, and pre-teen son and daughter, with me - standing in a green field, arms around each other.
With my Irish family

6:00 pm

I’m reading family scenes in Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and looking at the groups all around me.

There were dolphins – everyone rushed to the window to look – not me. I didn’t want to leave all my stuff at this table un-monitored.

I am alone again.

A melancholy selfie of a woman in a blue jumper on the deck of a ferry, cloudy day, dark sea, a bit of Ireland in the distance.
On my own again, farewell Ireland.

9:00 pm

I’ve painted a watercolour of the sea beyond my window while listening to a podcast of Robert speaking on modernism someplace once upon a time. He’s a smart man, knowledgeable and interesting – which shouldn’t be surprising, he’s been at this thing he does for 50 years.

Here’s the thing about the intelligence others see in me, and which I see too, albeit less clearly – why can’t I figure out what to do with it? How to use my smarts, my talents, to produce, to create – to leave something?

Listening to RP, reading his stuff. Reading Jane Smiley’s novel. Admiring all the artists at Kilkenny, I feel the twinges of regret for having not done more with my 46 years.

Time to retreat to my cabin to eat biscuits. Tomorrow I ride. And seek. Seek. Something. What am I seeking? I don’t really know. But, in the meantime. Just. Be. Here. Now.

The gloaming: Low clouds over a gently rolling strip of Ireland on the horizon, the foreground calm steel-coloured sea.
Goodbye Ireland

Not the Dublin I First Visited – Mostly for the Best, But Not All: Thursday 6 August 2015 (Day 74)

Thursday 6 August 12:40 pm – Umi Falafel

I fear I’ve been pretending to be a normal tourist – more flush, short-term. I’ve been getting coffees, eating out, paying entrance fees for museums. I’m a little scared to add it up and convert it into Australian dollars.

This morning I was meant to join a free walking tour of the city but the crowd was large and the guide too bubbly for my mood so I wandered off before we even got going.

Instead I visited the Chester Beatty Library. Admission was free and they have a pretty interesting collection of manuscripts and religious artifacts collected by … Charles Beatty.

Now I’m having lunch at this smashing falafel and hummus restaurant – this is not the same Dublin I first visited all those years ago, that’s for sure. Seriously, if you are ever in Dublin: Umi Falafel.

I’ve decided I can get through all I want to see and do in Dublin today so I’ve arranged a lift back to Kilkenny from the airport for this afternoon.

I’m thinking ahead to my return to France – I booked my ferry to Cherbourg. Right now I’m planning on turning  left out of the port, follow the coast of Normandy for a bit – not worry about visiting Tom in the South of France or seeing the Vuelta Espana. I feel due for a nice long run of just being on the bicycle day after day after day.

2:35 pm – Busy Bee Cafe

When I first visited Dublin in 1988 I went looking for U2’s studio in Windmill Lane. I found it on the back streets of a drab working-class residential neighbourhood a few blocks back from the dying quayside with its little used or derelict cranes.

Fans had scrawled graffiti on the front of the building with messages for the band and notes about where they had come from to make this visit.

Windmill Lane Studios, 1988
Windmill Lane Studios, 1988

Seven years later, in 1995, on my next visit to Dublin, things were much the same. The graffiti had spread and the neighbourhood seemed a bit changing but all was recognizable.

Windmill Lane Studios, 1995
Windmill Lane Studios, 1995

I’ve just come from there now and I walked around several blocks trying to sort out where the offices had been. Windmill Lane is a construction zone – well – a destruction zone right now – Wikipedia warned me. They said the wall of graffiti has been saved. But was not, presently, on site.

Windmill Lane, 2015
Windmill Lane, 2015

The neighbourhood is now full of new apartment complexes and office buildings housing things like web designers and McCann Erickson.

I know that, on balance, this is a good thing. Good for Dublin. Good for the Irish economy. But it’s another mark of how every city becoming more and more just like every other city with old, close in districts, being remade from homes for low-wage workers in nearby jobs to homes and offices for the “creative class”.

As Paul Kelly has put it … Every Fucking City’s just the same (okay, his story isn’t really about gentrification but still …).

Dublin: I’m done.

The museums were good and some of the wandering but … cities … meh. Looking forward to riding through the countryside again.

4:50 pm – Airport

I feel like I’m just here and time is whizzing past – there’s truth in that but maybe I’m being harsh on myself as well.

Maybe I need to be a little more focused and a little less wandering. Focus on the Jewish stuff, on the learning German. These are shaping ideas. I think maybe it’s time for more shaping ideas.

What would that mean?

D-Day Beaches. Find a German course I can do. Identify Jewish sites/museums I want to visit.

Yes, maybe this needs to be a little less organic.

Feeling a bit low, uncertain in Dublin: Tuesday 4 August 2015 (Day 72)

Tuesday 4 August 9:30 am

Am I doing this thing right? I guess I am because it’s the way I’m doing it but am I doing it in a way I’ll be satisfied with when it’s over?

Sanz sent me a link to a piece about Groningen, in the Netherlands, where 61% of trips are by bicycle. She wondered if it’s on my list … and I’m kind of like: what list? Where am I going and why? I feel like it’s become very organic but maybe too organic.

Should I make a point of getting to bicycle places? To Jewish places?

Grrr … I have to think more about what I’m doing.

God, the weather’s nasty out there … wind is swirling rain around.

11:51 am

I’m looking forward to getting out to Dublin. Rural living is not for me, the whole having to drive everywhere, not being able to just pop out to a shop, wouldn’t suit me in the long run.

9:35 pm

Glenn asked me when I’d be home. And Cornelia gave me a big hug and said she’s looking forward to my return.

It was lovely and almost made me teary.

I don’t think I’d be the same if I’d had a house guest for a week.

10:15 pm – McDaids, Dublin

Not my picture, it's Patrick Donald's.
Not my picture, it’s Patrick Donald’s.

This pub is opposite Bruxelles – which used to be a hard place – there’s a statue of Phil Lynott, from Thin Lizzy, out front. It’s difficult to imagine this gentrified place as one that birthed Thin Lizzy. But Dublin then wasn’t what Dublin is now. I first visited in 1988 and it was basically a provincial hard-luck city just beginning to turn. Now, even after the GFC, it’s a bustling, cosmopolitan, European capital.

It’s so much more multicultural than even 20 years ago (when I was last here) – people working in places, residents on the street, the assortment of restaurants. And it’s crushing with foreign tourists. A lot of Spanish – I don’t know why that is. A desire to learn English in a Catholic country maybe?

Couples are bugging me. The sight of them – the hand holding, the little touches. Baz – the filmmaker friend of Glenn, who gave me a lift to Dublin – ringing his wife/partner to let her know he was on his way.

After wandering around the city centre for a good while I finally found this pub – which is age appropriate. Busy but not full – mostly, but not exclusively, middle aged men. None of any interest. It’s hard to walk into a pub after 10 pm as a middle-aged woman, alone, in travelling pants, walking shoes, and with a crazily coloured rucksack and feel anything but invisible and undesirable. Alone. Did I mention the ‘alone’ bit?

I’ve booked a third night at this hostel but I’m going to look for something else. My own space – I’ve not paid for accommodation this past week, and more of that to come with Glenn and Cornelia, so fuck it – a bit of a splurge is in order.

Yeah – feeling a little low and not looking forward to my dorm-room sleep. It’s a small room. It will be stuffy. Sigh. It’s just two nights, it’ll be okay.

Dublin reminds me of Melbourne.

 

Quiet Domestic Day for Thinking About What’s Next: Monday 3 August 2015 (Day 71)

Monday 3 August, 2:07 pm – Flanders Cross

It was rainy and blowy all night; clear, if gusty, this morning.

I’ve been for a good hour’s walk: quiet, peaceful, a bit of exercise, head clearing. I was thinking of where to go next, how to get on with it. I’ve made no decisions but I feel a little clearer in my mind.

How am I feeling? The cold is slowly clearing itself – but I’m still coughing. And I’m definitely feeling a need for a bit of physical contact with a male of the species. Last night I thought I might stay two nights in Derry, in my own room, with a view towards, um, sharing it, if the opportunity presents itself.

I wrote postcards today.
I wrote postcards today.

The dog and cat are speaking again (the dog had been shorn and bathed, the cat didn’t recognise him). There is a Kiwi, who lives in Hong Kong, here for a wood turning class. Matthew has mastered the Rubik’s Cube. Isabel is working on an art project. Soon Cornelia and the kids are going to Kilkenny.

I was messaging with Tyler last night – he visited Kilkenny in high school. His mum is in Italy right now. He said his life is complicated and will send me an email. Jonathan’s birthday is today and I messaged him … he, too, has promised an email.

The need to travel on is growing.

11:15 pm

My next steps are coming together – sort of. I slogged through the options this afternoon.

I feel … anxious, just a bit, because I’ve gotten less work done here than I’d hoped.

But I have rested and relaxed, I had a cold (which, it seems, the kids have now and I feel quite bad about it). I’m ready to travel more – if not ride quite yet.

The thing is I’ve said ‘yes ‘and offered to help and helped and listened attentively to Cornelia while she’s talked. And she’s a talker. It’s not that I’ve been shirking the work – just not getting through as much of it as I’d like.

I’m leaning toward a 17-hour ferry to France. I’ve emails out with Andrew and Tom – who I would see in the UK, but now, might not.

Glenn’s sister and brother-in-law stopped by this evening with their two and three-year-old kids. They live where he’s from – northeast of Dublin. Their daughter was forthright – which I like in a child (I don’t have to mind) –  an assertive and clear ‘no’ or simple ‘I want to see the dog’ – no waffle or whine with that one.

Hmmm. Sigh. Yup, I need to travel more – and to get back on the bike.

 

Should I Take That? Should I Take This?

Basically I’m having endless circular thoughts about gear.

I’ve been thinking about clothes again, more. I’ve gotten two new pairs of Merino undies. I’m again leaning toward wearing the knicks and cycling tops I have, at least to begin with.

For off the bicycle: I’ve the Kathmandu shorts and the travel skirt and the new Merino dress. I’ve the Midnight Oil t-shirt and the grey Kathmandu one or maybe Powell’s Books. Should I get something a little nicer? Something long sleeved?

Will I sleep in my existing leggings and a t-shirt? Or should I take something more pyjama-like? Something loose and breathable might be nice.

This is what it’s like in my brain today.

A Timely Reminder from Unclipped

I’ve been following Tegan Philips’ adventure on Unclipped since the begin … such a great and simple blog. Today, this reminder – I’ve been feeling a little stressed about my To Do list and the disappearance of days as I move toward a mid-April departure. I have the bike. I’ll get the most important stuff I’ll need. Adventure will happen. Thanks Tegan.

This is Why I Use a Travel Agent – Problem Solved!

The best news of the day is that my Flight Centre travel agent Hannah has sorted me accommodation at the Airport Hotel in Doha at no extra charge to me. Sigh. That is why I use a travel agent. If I’d have booked my ticket on-line I’m sure I’d be shit out of luck.

If my flight lands on time I bet I can be in my hotel room by 11:30 pm and my flight to Milan doesn’t leave until 8:30 am.

Once the new itinerary and hotel voucher come through I’ll write to Hannah’s manager to let her know how happy I am. The itinerary is actually better now – getting to break up the long journey with an actual night’s sleep in a bed, have a shower, maybe even a swim if I feel like it  – I’m sure to feel fresher on arrival in Milan than I otherwise would. Plus I’m now arriving in Milan around 1:45 pm so I won’t be riding a train with a loaded bicycle during peak hour.

Flight Changes are Giving Me Grief

Qatar Airways has changed my flights leaving me with the option of either taking a later flight from Sydney to Hong Kong on Cathay keeping short layovers there and in Doha but losing 10 kg from my baggage allowance (as Cathay offers 20 kg to economy passengers on that route compared to Qantas’ 30 kg). Or I can stay with Qantas but have nine hour layover in Doha without the provision of a hotel room.

I’ve told my travel agent neither of these options are acceptable as they both materially change the product I bought. I wouldn’t have bought a ticket with either of these conditions.

We’ll see.

Finding Inspiration at the Art Gallery of NSW

I spent part of New Years Day at the Art Gallery of NSW having a wander through the exhibits.

The text accompanying Tony Albert’s Hey Ya! (Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture) read, in part

Ritsi (the young man in the photographs) and Albert share an experience of re-connection to country and community by following the movements of their ancestors.

One image from Tony Albert's 'Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)' at the Art Gallery of NSW
One image from Tony Albert’s ‘Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

 

Part of what I’ll be doing on my Big Ride is, in a way, just this: I’ll be re-connecting with the places my antecedents lived for thousands of years by following their movements across Europe. I will visit reminders and remainders of their culture and, hopefully, connect with my fellow descendants who still, or are again, living there.

The European Jews were, of course, displaced by the awful tides of hate history bore down on them. My families have done well in the diaspora, I’m not complaining. They were fortunate to have been driven out by the pogroms before Hitler’s Final Solution was enacted. But still, they were displaced. They were disconnected from their places and their communities. They had to learn from scratch how to make their way in the world.

As a still new, and happy, immigrant to Australia I suspect I see Australia’s Aboriginal history and people somewhat differently than I would if I had been born and raised here. The relationship between new and old Australians is complicated — as are these relationships anywhere in the world where there are New and Old.

Tony Albert’s work had me thinking about two things. How can I, living my modern peripatetic non-religious assimilated life connect with my not-to-distant Eastern European Yiddish-speaking shtetl-living observant Jewish ancestors? And how can my efforts to do so connect me with these, my fellow Australians, the descendants of the first Australians.

* * *

Tom Carment's 'Flame Tree'
Tom Carment’s ‘Flame Tree’

I was also taken by the exhibition of Tom Carment’s small watercolour sketches of parks and street scenes. These reminded me to put a sketch book and watercolour kit on my shopping list for the trip. I have basically no experience drawing or doing watercolours – not since I was a kid anyway – but am keen to give it a go. It seems like the time one would take to really look at a scene to try to represent it in pen and ink would be good — just taking that time to really look, will be a good exercise.