A Travellerspoint blog

Rediscovering home

sunny 27 °C

A trip just isn't a trip if it doesn't start at the airport. At least that's how it usually feels to me. Unless I'm in for a long, cramped ride over lots of water, I'm not so much travelling as not going to work, or - at the very most - escaping for a weekend.

And so I forget how much there is to do here at home. Montreal is a huge, vibrant city - I've really never seen a place like it anywhere. Walk downtown and you'll hear every language, see people of every colour, admire every style of dress and haircut (with the unfortunate mullet, or "coupe Longueuil" popping up now and then). It's easy to forget what we have in the winter, when it's 30 below and the longest you want to be outside is the 5 seconds you need to sprint to a warm, waiting car.

But summer...I realized today, with Neal arriving in just a few hours, that we're in for a summer of seeing Montreal all over again. There's something about Neal's enthusiasm for the city that makes me want to show him all the little corners, off the beaten path, that I've seen maybe once or twice in my entire life. And so I rediscover my city, and the province, all over again.

So far, we've got a long weekend in Quebec City planned next week. Old Quebec is beautiful - long, cobble-stoned streets; old stone buildings; the Chateau Frontenac; the boardwalk; the St. Laurent with Ile d'Orleans in the background; a stop at Pape Georges for maple paté and a glass of wine; the sound of the caleches; the tight, touristy feel of Quartier Champlain. I've seen it dozens of times, but I love it each and every time I return.

And then the rest of the summer is left for Montreal: the Old Port with the rapids of the St. Laurent; the locks; the Cirque du Soleil tent; the incredible sangria at Jardin Nelson; the museums and street vendors and the crash of novice Rollerbladers.

And the festivals: the Jazz Fest, with hundreds-of-thousands of people lining the streets; the Just for Laughs Fest; the World Fil Fest; the Carrifesta; Shakespeare in the Park (which I've never ever gone to see); the Food Fest; and more that I can't remember for the life of me.

Then there's Little Italy, with the best coffee in the city; Ferraris parked in front of the fancy restaurants; Milano's grocery with imports that make me dream of Rome; football shirts in every window; and the best-dressed people in the city. Neal will insist on a few trips to Little India for Vindaloo at the BYOB place. There's a hike up Mount Royal and, on Sundays, the Tam-Tam jam at the foot of the hill - hundreds of bongo players and people dancing to a rhythm you can feel for a mile.

Even right here, near home, there's the Pointe-aux-Prairies park, with miles of walking paths through the last of the woods here in the east; bogs full of frogs; wild birds; and, if you're lucky, the occassional deer. It leads all the way to the old cemetery, with old war graves and a day's worth of reading tombstones. I haven't been in ages, but I'll take Neal and it'll be like new to me again.

How easy it is to forget that people come here, to the city I see every day, to visit. They actually sit down and plan a trip to Montreal - plotting the sights to see, places to stay, where to eat...I could never understand it - why people would come here for their only 2 weeks of vacation, when it's no Paris or Rome or London. But sometimes I get a glimpse of it.

If I were to live somewhere else for a long time, and if I took the plane home, I'm sure Montreal would feel like a trip for me, too.

Posted by tway 06:32 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Grazie, Italia!

Now, can you take back the 10 pounds I gained?

sunny 29 °C

Apparently, it rained non-stop here at home from the day we left until the day we came back. Ha! Two weeks in Italy and not a drop - not a single drop - of rain to be had. Just sunny skies, soaring temperatures, toxic diesel fumes, men (and even one prococious 3 year old) who make you feel like the centre of the universe, more food than can possibly be good for two people, even more wine, long road trips, and one suitcase now fit for the trash. I have no luck with luggage.

After a sardine-like flight on Air Transat, Debby and I arrived in Rome exhausted and elated. We made our way on the train from the airport to Termini station - me saying how much a train ride feels like the perfect start, and Debby exclaiming that this is exactly why she never takes trains. Oh, well. We'd rented (OK, I'd rented) a small apartment a short walk from the Termini station - a strange, dank, mildewy place smack in the middle of the courtyard of an apartment complex. It was like being in a big box in the centre of a cement yard. It was eerie but clean, although Debby felt the need to "boobytrap", as she calls it, the place before going to bed: chairs and cans in front of the door, bread knives under the mattress, and, before entering the building at night, loud discussions about our long-overdue holiday from the Police force. (For my paranoid part, I clutched the car door handle in panic and fought off nausea wherever we drove - while Debby multi-tasked and steered the car with her knee, on one occassion, fitting in like a Pro).

Rome was beautiful, historic, busy, and smelled like pee. I mean everywhere. We had to hold our breath to walk up the street to the main boulevard. And although I'd heard about driving in Italy, you honestly have to see it to believe it. There are aparently no rules, and that goes fourfold for scooters. People park everywhere, stop anywhere, cut in all over the place - but no one seems to get too upset. They simply (and I mean everyone) give what we called the "mah - what?" gesture: fingers of one hand pointed upward, in a bunch, and moved back and forth towards the chest. It was a flashback to our largely Italian highschool days.

We started with the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain, a stop to eat, a gelato (gelAto - not juh-latto, if you please), some walking around, and finally supper. We also saw the Colisseum, where we met a guy from Calgary, travelling with his mother, and a guy from Dublin taking a side trip after attending his sister's wedding in Tuscany. We went to supper with them, and Debby (Italian and tri-lingual and having been to Italy before)introduced them to Mozarella di Buffallo - which was excusably mistaken for a plate of hard-bolied eggs and pecked at carefully. But oh, what mouth-watering cheese that is. (I think I can get it here, in Montreal's Little Italy, for some $15 for the tiniest bit. Dang.)

The next day, we booked a rediculously early (even for me) tour of the Vatican museums, and waited in the longest line I've ever seen (pushed and cajoled by a throng of middle-aged tourists - and they claim younger people are rude!). The tour was nice, if rushed and packed. I hate crowds - more specifically, I hate being touched and bumped into by strangers. It makes me cringe. One (middle-aged) lady even tried to bump me out of the way to see the Sistine Chapel first, and I had to grab Debby's hand not to tumble down the marble stairs. But, it was all very beautiful, very historic, and with that done, we took the car and drove - for 7 long hours (1 1/2 of which were spent, immobile, waiting for an accident to clear) to Venice.

What can I say - Venice is stunning. Packed with tourists (like us) so as to be just about farcical, but like nothing I'd ever seen. We arrived at night, almost 10, and the apartment owner met us at one of the Vaporetti stops to take us to our place. It was a strange walk: desolate, dark, and eerie - with strange people at every turn - yet clean, almost magical, and so quiet without the sound of cars. Such a difference from Rome. It was almost like stepping back in time. The apartment, called Ca'Maria, was beautiful: sparklingly new, with every amenity you can imagine, and a fridge full of food and drink for us. It was less that half the price of even the cheapest hotels, so we'd hit the jackpot. We went for a walk to the Ponte Rialto, had a quick look around, then stumbled onto the only remaining restaurant open at 11. They rushed us thorugh our meal, and the waiter tried to interest Debby in a night cap followed by who-knows-what, so we decided to call it a day.

I was up early the next morning, and made my way alone through the alleyways and sidestreets for a few hours. I love the look of a place in the morning - there's something so clean and promising about it. I crossed from one side of the Rialto bridge to the other, turning here and crossing another canal there, and finally made my way to our meeting point, where I waited a good while for Debby (a late sleeper if there ever was one) and was rudely and briskly felt-up by a middle-aged man in a suit. Instinctively, I gave him the "mah - what?" gesture and stared him down while secretly revelling in the fact that I'd been fondled in Italy - although I was hoping for someone a bit younger. We spent the day walking around, eating (one restaurant promised "Spaghetti with carpet shells" - a strange translation for clams - and we couldn't resist), splurging on a gondola ride (with the handsome and charming-without-being-pornographic Mauro as our guide), taking a quick look at San Marco, a Vaporetti drive to Maurano (where the glass was rediculously expensive), and eating again. I didn't want to leave Venice - although Tuscany wasn't a bad alternative.

After another long drive and plenty of getting lost (Italy has this thing about putting up road signs that say "X - straight ahead", and when you go straight ahead you find a four-forked crossroads with no further indications), we found our villa, just outside San Casciano, some 20 minutes from Florence. The villa is on a property owned by the Corsini family - a rediculously-large acred vineyard that was like something out of the Godfather. No kidding. We also had the place - I mean the whole place, enough for some 15 guests - all to ourselves for 4 nights. It was gorgeous, with our room facing the not-yet-budded vinyard and smelling of old wood, stone buildings and olive and grape fields. There were even fireflies at night - the first I've ever seen in my life. Such fascinating things, lighting up whole corners of paths and gathering in the small valleys between rows of trees. But supper awaited - and we went into San Casciano to the only restaurant still open and had the best meal yet.

We spent the next few days touring the cities around: Sienna, Florence, San Casciano. We spent a whole aftrnoon at the pool right next to the villa, feeling like the only people in the world. We also booked a tour of the villa, given by the extremely knowleagable Australian nanny, and had an absolute feast for lunch outside the cantina: capers the size of olives, marinated zuccini, home-made pasta with artichokes from the owner's garden, a cheese-fruit-and-jam plate, with biscotti and Vino Santo for dessert - all washed down with a bottle of their popular Corti wine and a half-bottle of their more exclusive Don Tomasso. Just as we were digging into dessert (well, trying to get it all to fit in), a car drove up - the only other car we'd seen there in 3 days, mind - and out came two Quebecers for a wine tasting. So we sat with them for an hour, and learned we were all on the same flight home. Small world!

From there we took a long, terrifying drive down to Praiano on the Amalfi coast. I say terrifying, but it was so stunningly beautiful you hardly noticed the sheer drop some several hundred feet down to the sea. Imagine a whole set of cities perched - and I mean perched - along the rock face of a set of gorgeous, steep mountains. There were lemon orchards everywhere - layed out in rows all down the side of the mountains. The roads were stupifying, winding around and around and around, so that you're able to see around the bend of a one-lane/two-vehicle road only by means of a mirror - IF said mirror was still in place. There were signs everywhere indicating that honking was strictly forbidden (although all road rules appear to be flexible), which we later realized was for the benefit of tour busses and trucks, who honked to indicate when they were coming round the bend lest they surprise (aka squish) some unsuspecting motorist or maniac on a scooter. At least the traffic flowed at a slowish pace, so I didn't feel like losing my lunch all too often. We stayed at the Hotel Margharita in Praiano, the village over from popular Positano. What a gorgeous hotel - something out of Florida, filled with couples in whte shorts and knee-socks-with-sandals, with walls painted pink-and-white and rooms that - thanks to a particularly high bed - gave you the most stunning view of the sea when you woke up. We walked down the steet (and I mean literally - you either walk straight up or straight down in the Amalfi) to a small pizarria, and I dragged Debby to a local bar to try to get her introduced to a local. There were slim pickings, though, and we stumbled back to the hotel and off to sleep.

The next day we took the bus to the beach - my preferred mode of transport, although Debby is a die-hard car fan. The water was gorgeous - all blues and greens - and we stung our eyes silly with salt water (the beaches around Montreal are mucky - not salty!) and worked up yet another appetite. Debby tried the next day to rent a scooter (there was no way, shape or form that I was getting on one of those things), but the rental guy (the most pretty Italian I'd ever seen) just about had an anyurism when he discovered she'd never ridden one before. So, in accordance to his vehemenant wishes, she decided to join me at the beach (I went on foot and she by car), which - as we were warned - was some 400 steps down the rock face. What a workout in 32 degree heat! At least, unlike Montreal in the summer, the shade provided some relief. It felt good to stretch my legs after too many days in the car, though, and we spent the day going from one beach to the next, eating in between and thinking about where to go for supper.

The day after, we went to Pompeii - my one concession to visit something death-related on the trip. Although I was disappointed that all the artifacts were at a seperate museaum - in Naples, I think it was - the remains of the city were fascinating and the audio-guide gave us lots of background. There were still beautiful paintings visible on the walls, and the sheer size of the city - and the way it was created (the road system, built deep for water and sewage to pass with stepping stones created for pedestrians and large enough for cart-wheels to fit through) - had me enthralled. Finally, the heat and the school groups getting too much, we once again headed out to eat, this time served by the most rude and surly waitress, I would venture to guess, in all of Italy. Her dialect was too much for even Debby to decipher, but a few well-placed "manage!"s made it clear to us that she wasn't a happy camper.

Afterwards, promped by a call from Debby's mother that morning, we headed out to Torre del Greco to try and find the house where she'd lived for a year when Debby's mother was 12. After asking some 400 people for directions, we finally found the street - a grassy, winding lane that took us, with sudden swiftness, from the busy city to a expanse of vineyards. We found the address, and a run-down but still beautiful - almost ruin-like - two-story place with a curious man peeking at us shyly. Steeling her nerve, Debby walked round to the back and called out to him, and discovered he was, indeed, her mother's first cousin and remembered the family's stay some 50 years before. It never ceases to fascinate me that, the more I travel, the smaller the world gets. We took some pictures, declined a very shy invitation for coffee, and headed back to Praiano. Like meeting the lovely woman who drove me to St. Aubin to see the beach my grandfather landed on, this unexpected bit of connection to the country - to parts of who you are - was the highlight of Debby's trip.

After the Amalfi, it was back to Rome for one more night. We arrived in the late afternoon, and I wanted to see St. Peter's - as the line up weeks before was rediculously long. As luck would have it, there were very few people there at all. We went right in, during a mass (at the front of the church - miles away from the front entrance, if that gives you an idea of how big it all is). The sunlight was streaming in the windows like a Rembrant painting, and the organ music was everywhere. It was so unexpectadly moving I had to fight away tears - here, in the church of all churches, I discovered that a lapsed Catholic is apparently always a Catholic. Even if I can't remember whole bits of the Nicean Creed anymore, it's still a part of who I am. I went to see the Grotto, where the bodies of past Popes are kept, and was severly disappointed at how museum-like and marble-y the place was. I was expecting a climb down some rickety stairs to a dank, dark catacomb-like place where they hand you a flashlight and claim they're not responsible for any mishaps. I then decided to climb to the Cupola - Debby had done that the last trip and claimed once was enough - and, after talking myself out of a panic attack in the winding steps that seemed to be going nowhere, I finally emerged at the very top of St. Peter's, able to see every side of Rome in all its glory. It was incredible. I was suddenly sorry to leave Rome, which was so dirty and smelly just a few weeks before. There was still so much left to see.

We later met up with one of the friends Debby met last time round. He took us for (our second) supper at this little out-of-the-way restaurant, where we sat eating chocolate-covered steak at 2 in the morning and trying desperately not to fall asleep in the semi-freddo. A quick wisk back to the hotel, a change, and it was off to the airport to catch our sardine flight home, where we slepped through the handing out of customs forms and probably snored away like the Dickens.

Grazie, Italia! But, moreover, arrivaderci!

Posted by tway 05:08 Archived in Italy Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Stop the press!

sunny 22 °C

It's 6 days and counting till we leave for Rome, and Debby has bronchitis. She's been bed-ridden all week (which explains why she hasn't been answering my e-mails) and is avoiding going the hospital route for fear of having an x-ray. Apparently, too many are bad for you, and she gets bronchitis more than the average person. Fluids and bedrest are her remedy, although I've threatened to drag her to the hospital by the hair if she's not better by Sunday.

So I've got my fingers crossed and I'm knocking on wood. And I'm busier than I've been in a year at work - the good busy, the creative kind. Isn't it always the way? Just when you're about to leave, about to clear your mind, you end up with the best projects and a lot of juggling.

So tonight I'm off for shopping and supper with Leanne - a bit of pre-birthday celebration since I'll be away in mid-May. Must pick up a book for the flight (I can't, for the life of me, sleep on a plane) and some decent sandals that don't make me feel like I'm walking on cardboard.

Six days, six days! I hope to never stop loving the giddy, nervous excitement of finally leaving, after all that planning. Sincerely, I never want to be stinking rich. Let me save and love it all and never take it for granted.


Posted by tway 13:43 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

On Normandy

and why I like chocolate pastries for breakfast

On the map, Belfast and Caen are only a few inches apart. Enough to fit your thumb between. The bottom part of England is squeezed between the two, with some little bits of water cutting through it all. So you'd think I could make my way from one to the other in no time at all.


I left the dorm in Belfast at 8 in the morning and got to Caen (one time zone further away) at about 9 at night. Chalk most of it up to waiting and running around: first to drop off the dorm key, then to drop off Neal's bags at a friend's, then a half-hour to the bus depot, and hour to Belfast International, and a 2-hour wait for the plane. Then it was an hour and a half to Paris, an hour's ride down to l'Opera (where I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Lafayette and Printemps Christmas displays), an hour's wait for the train, and finally two hours to Caen.

I stayed at a small and very cosy place called Hotel St. Etienne. I arrived to find a guest refusing to leave the room I booked, and an apologetic receptionist offering me a bigger room for two nights at the same price. Bonus! I got a double room with full bathroom for 23 Euro a night. It was a typical European hotel: a tight winding staircase, worn wood stairs, cramped but clean quarters, and views onto one of the most incredible cities in the world. My last two nights were spent in the room I booked originally - the attic. I had to bend into the last bit of staircase, and then again to get through the door. I could stand up fully in only two places in the room, and could just about put my feet up on the bed from the cleverly placed commode. But the view! The view! I popped my head out the skylight to find myself on the rooftop, with the pigeons and antennas, looking out onto the rooftops and across to the Abbeye des Hommes just a few streets away. It was breathtaking, like something out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I giggled the whole way up the staircase at the sheer wonder and strangeness of it all.

My first day there I'd planned to just walk around and get my bearings. But one thing led to another, and before you know it I was on the bus to Courselles-sur-Mer, an hour away. Such a beautiful ride through the countryside, scattered with memorials and war cemeteries and fields and sheep, sheep, sheep. And then we turned the corner at Luc-sur-Mer and there it was, the English Channel, so incredibly blue and vast and unexpected - something I'd waited so long to see. Turns out it was one of many times that I completely misread the (incredibly complicated) bus schedule, and the kind driver offered to drive me up to the Juno Beach Centre as I was the last passenger at the last stop. A winding walk around the sailboat canal and across a parking lot and there it was, the first D-Day beach I've ever seen, not the one my Grandfather landed on but still a Canadian landing point and still something beyond words, almost sacred. I collected shells for each of the cousins, a film canister of sand, pictures of the waves, the beach, the leftover bunkers, the memorial markers. I wrote my Grandfather's name in the sand at my Grandmother's request, and headed back to the city centre to catch the bus back. The Juno Centre, closed for lunch, would have to wait till my next visit on Friday.

The next few days I walked myself out. That tends to be the way I travel alone - going round and round and round (what's with European cities and their need to build streets in a circle around the main square?) and getting lost, walking until my feet and my legs are cramped and I'm so hungry I can't see straight to find food. But I saw William the Conquerer's castle (turns out you can't actually visit inside the castle - there is no inside. Most was blown to bits during WWII) and the Abbey des Hommes, where 10,000 Caen civilians spend the D-Day invasion and the months that followed. There were knicks and holes and missing pieces leftover from the fighting.

I also spent a day at Memorial - Cean's 'Museum for Peace' - which gave the history of WWII and the repercussions of war on civilians and the rest of the world. I saw pictures of Caen after the invasion - nothing but a few broken walls, with rubble piled high in the streets. It was unrecognizable as a city, and I wondered how they managed to build it all back up again. I looked, as I always do, for pictures of my Grandfather everywhere. I don't know why - what are the chances I'd see him, one soldier among so many? But I though I caught a glimpse of someone who looked just like him on an old roll of film, and I didn't stay to watch it again to make sure. I liked keeping the idea that it might be him.

On November 11th (which turns out to be a holiday in France, BTW), I headed out to Juno Beach again, this time for the Remembrance Day ceremonies. I met up with Canadians all along the way - some from Toronto, Sherbrooke, Victoria. We were all headed the same way, a busfull of Canadians in the middle of Normandy. Because the busses only ran in the afternoon for the holiday (unbeknownst to all of us), we had only about a half hour to explore the museum. I wish I'd had more time, or stayed later the Tuesday before. The Ceremony itself was beautiful: people came from across the beach towns, there were French veterans and school kids who sang each national anthem. During the two minutes of silence, I closed my eyes and heard the waves, the seagulls, the wind. I don't even have the word to describe it.

At the reception afterwards, a woman from a nearby town came by to chat with us. I mentioned to her that my Grandfather had landed at St-Aubin-sur-Mer on D-Day, and - due to distance and crazy bus schedules - I simply didn't get out to see the beach. And in a flash she was pulling me out to her car, this nice elderly lady, talking a mile a minute and whizzing us down the road. I had about 45 minutes to catch my bus, and in that time we saw the beach, the memorial, the road the soldiers took, the town, her B&B. She gave me a collection of postcards her son made using Canadian memorabilia washed up on the beach, and I collected a quick rock and another film canister of sand.

It was surreal, perfect. My trip had saved the best for last.

Posted by tway 13:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

Back to Belfast

Or: Why a place looks so different the second time around

This trip, I insisted on seeing things. First Giant's Causeway, followed by a list of every conceivable point of interest that could be got to by bus, train, begged ride, or on foot. So I overpacked my (now put to rest) awkward Roots duffle bag with borrowed wool sweaters, three (!!) pairs of shoes, a hairdryer (with what will turn out to be the wrong adapter), a scrapbook for Neal, my jogging stuff (never to be taken out once), and an umbrella. For some reason, Neal doesn't own an umbrella. People in Belfast just walk around oblivious of the rain.

My trip there was a mad dash the wrong way across the country - from Montreal, to Ottawa, to Toronto... then on the plane to Halifax and finally on to Belfast. I was beat before we were even over the ocean. In the half-empty plane, I managed to get the entire 3-seat middle row to myself, until the loud Irish family in back of me started to spread out across the plane like leaky custard - first to the window seats on the left, then the right, then on the end of my row. I managed to lay claim to the seat right next to mine by sticking the in-flight magazine and safety manual all over it, but still the grungy son filled half the space with his elbow. I gave him a flight's worth of dirty looks over the top of my book.

From landing to seeing the light of day took an instant. I've never gone through customs so fast, and my bag thumped down the carrousel about 5th in line. Then a twist and a turn and before I was even ready there was Neal, just as surprised to see me so quickly. And so there I was, finally here.

Neal had booked us a space in the dorm at Queen's University (after a stern warning from the dormmistress that there'd be spot checks for shared accommodation) - a nasty, smelly little forgotten room with a snail crawling up the wall near the bed. It was the saddest looking place I'd ever seen, but it was cheap and it was central enough. With all the places we ended up staying, it was mostly a space to keep our luggage anyway.

The next morning we headed out extremely early for the 3-hour jouney up to Giant's Causeway. A trainride to Carrickfergus, a bus to Larne (a wreck of a small town), and then a long, bumpy journey up the Antrim Coast to the eighth wonder of the world. The trip alone was incredible: coastlines made of cliffs and pastures and crashing waves. Neal claimed to see a seal in the water watching the bus go by, and at some point I was fighting off nausea as the bus rolled up, down, bump, bump, bump along the teensiest of roads. But the Causeway was gorgeous. Not hugely spectacular, but quiet and vast and windy. I couldn't believe it: something like it, here at home, would be cornoned off and you'd need a ticket and a long wait in line before being allowed a glimpse of the place. But here it was just there, for anyone - free and left to grow wild. I loved it.

The weekend was spent in Donegal with Neal's brother and his girlfriend. The dang roads are aparently the same everywhere - haphasardly asphalted over rocks and cow poo and lord knows what else so that in the end you get a big bumpy mess that sets your stomach rolling. The scenery changed as we left North Ireland for Donegal - the green pastures and fluffy sheep turned into red-brown peat hills with crazy rams perched on the edge of cliffs to get at the grass. Philip drove us up the scariest dirt path in the world to the Slieve League cliffs, and I've never felt such wind in my life. Neal tells me German tourists are notorious for getting too close to the edge and tumbling over in the wind. The view is spectacular, almost terrifying. On the drive back home we stop at Rossnowlagh beach, where it's piss-pouring rain to the point where we can't even peak around the umbrella, yet the sun is out. It was the strangest felling - almost euphoric. I took a pic of 3 French surfers talking away in the rain, and a dog racing deliriously across the beach. Neal made a half-joking remark about the rainbow being our hope for the future, and we both laughed at how cheesy and true that sounded. It was probably the best moment I spent in Ireland.

After much shopping, time with parents, Neal getting some studying done and me reading away in coffee shops, we decide to spend our one free day with James in Fermanagh. James taught in Quebec with Neal all last year, so it was nice to meet up with someone he and I both knew. James picked us up in Enniskillin, and we went for breakfast before heading off to his parents' farm in the country. And what a farm! It was all something out of a Dick and Jane book - so lovely and untouched and almost 'quaint', although quaint doesn't do justice to how good and welcome and real it felt. James' mother was in the kitchen, this beautiful green linolium room with an old fashioned stove and a calendar on the wall, cooking scones and making tea for us. I felt like I'd gone back in time, and I felt at home. James took us on a tour of the farm (which I later, quite stupidly, told Canada Customs about)- the anti-social sheep, the moving pile of cows, the old abandoned house that Neal insisted on 'exploring'. He then drove us out to see two stubborn donkeys, a long row of abandoned houses, and a cemetery dating from just after 1000 AD. The tombstones had long ended up on the ground, but you could still decipher a face in one of them. I made some sort of respectful thank-you prayer for the opportunity to see such a sight - which was my way of giving myself permission to snap a pic of that too.

On Friday we got up early again for the longish trip to Dublin. Our reservations were at Marina House in Dun Laoghaire - a wonderful little hostel about 20 minutes out of the city centre. Due to some mix up, though, we ended up having to spend night 2 in the most unwelcoming litte farce of a B&B a little farther into the town. The first night Neal and I simply stayed in the town, though, and made our own supper for the first time the whole trip (minus the speed-eating incident in Donegal). The next night we met up with Phil (aka Pardus) who took us for a drink and then over to a nice little Italian place, where I had (at last! at last!) a salad for supper. What bliss not to have something fried staring up from my plate! The next morning Phil took us over to Kilmainham Goal (although not before we introduced him to Queen of Tarts - THE best cake shop in the world, like something out of a dream).

The whole weekend passed in a blur, with Monday always on the mind. Twelve days went by in a flash, and there we were back at the airport again, saying goodbye to counter the hello, counting the exact number of days till Christmas, and not really sure of what comes next after that. Just that there's always a next, when you really want it. So we just go with that. It's worked pretty good so far.

Posted by tway 16:43 Archived in Northern Ireland Comments (4)

Learning how to pronounce Caen

sunny 12 °C

Aparently, the city is pronounced "cahn" - as opposed to "ca-ENNE", as I've been saying for months. I learned that from the surly man behind the counter at St. Lazarre station, who gave me the crazy-tourist look and shoved the train tickets through the little metal box. Ah, well.

I arrived here last night after a long journey from Belfast. But it's a beautiful town and the weather is wonderful. Still have " more wonderful days to go yet!

Posted by tway 09:01 Archived in France Comments (0)

Arrived and kicking.

rain 13 °C

Three days in a nutshell:

Long journey, bad airline food, little sleep, wonderful arrival, terrible accommodations, noisy neighbours, early morning, breathtaking (and a bit nauseating) journey up the Antrim coast, incredible Giant's causeway, beautiful sunshine, Ulster Fry, rain, rain, rain, lots of walking, two rolls of film, preparing for Donegal, lots of talking, no unsweetened juice to be found, plenty of beer (and wine), damp, damp, and damp, wrong hairdryer adapter, having a good time, wish you were here!


Posted by tway 05:57 Archived in Northern Ireland Comments (0)

Four more sleeps!

And a lot of packing to go.

sunny 8 °C

I think it's all done now, save for the packing. I can't help it - I'm my father's daughter, doomed to plan ahead and have more information than I know what to do with "just in case". But despite long hours finishing up at work and an inability to fall asleep till well past midnight, I'm excited and anxious and ready to go. "Four more do-dos!" as they say here in Quebec. Four more sleeps and I'll be on my way back to Ireland (and Giant's Causeway, at last!!).

The itinerary looks something (well, pretty much exactly) like this:

Oct. 25
- Debby's driving me to Ottawa (Miranda may come along with little Emilia, and althouh I love them both dearly and really want their company, Miranda is notoriously late - the 2-hour kind of late. I've warned Debby that any waiting around will cuase me to lose my lunch in her car the entire ride.)

- Flight from Ottawa to Toronto at 5

- Flight from Toronto to Belfast at 11

- Arrive Belfast at noon Wednesday

Oct. 27
- Up early to visit Giant's Causeway and some amusement park that's supposed to be cheesy and fun.

Oct. 28 - 30
- Weekend in Donegal (Donny-Gal? Don-a-gal? Dawn-uh-gal??) with Neal, his brother Philip and his girlfriend Emma

Oct. 31-Nov. 3
- Belfast - both on my own while Neal's in class, and with the Cunninghams on a trip to the Mournes. Nothing planned for the rest of the time - reseeing the stuff I liked the first time round.

Nov. 4 10 6
- Dublin! First night booked at The Marina hostel, and second night tentatively staying with Neal's friend Michael right downtown. WIll meet Phil and hopefully a few other TPers on the Saturday (day and/or night!)

Nov. 7
- Fly Belfast to Paris, take train from St. Lazarre to Caen
- Booked 5 nights (may have to cancel 1) at le St. Etienne for an unbelievable 23 Euro a night (it's a hotel! a nice one!)

Nov. 7 - 11
- Caen
- Mont St. Michel
- D-Day beaches and war cemetaries (I'm a cemetary freak)
- Rembrance Day on Juno Beach

Nov. 11
- train back to Paris, sleep in airport, maybe venture out to see Paris again (can one safely tour Paris in the middle of the night??)

Nov. 12
- fly home at 8 a.m.

Hopefully I'll be able to post now and then while I'm gone. Back to work, now, else I'll be here all night on a letter-writing marathon...

Posted by tway 06:56 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (2)

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